SI Vault
Giles Tippette
February 13, 1984
On the platform above the bucking chutes, the rodeo announcer, Don Endsley, is saying: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we come to that premier event in rodeo, the one you've all been waiting for—cowboy bull riding."
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February 13, 1984

Rodeo Clown Leon Coffee Has To Put Up With A Lot Of Bull On The Job

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Coffee turns around to him and laughs and says, "Man, you in a lot of trouble."

"C'mon, c'mon."

"First place, bull ain't going to give you no show for the money. Second, he going to try and kill you when you come off him."

What Coffee is talking about is the paradox of the bucking events in rodeo. In those three events—saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and bull riding—you are judged 50% on how well you ride the animal, but also 50% on how well the animal bucks. It's a factor you have no control over. You can put the best ride in the world on a bull, but if he doesn't buck you are not going to the pay window.

We arrive at the arena where, just like a matador getting out of his car at the corrida de toros, Coffee is immediately surrounded by children and fans who want his autograph. Even though we are running late, he patiently signs for everybody, including a rodeo groupie (in my day called a Shiny Bright, but now known as a Buckle Bunny) who opens her shirt and asks him to sign on her bra.

All Coffee says, as we walk toward the chutes is, "Man, I'm glad she had something on underneath her blouse."

Coffee came to rodeo the way most cowboys do: He was born into it. His grandfather owned a 1,500-acre ranch, and his father broke and shod horses in Blanco, Texas, about 50 miles west of Austin. As a kid, Coffee liked to ride bareback, the wilder the horse the better. At age nine he began competing in rodeos. But after 14 years, he says, "It wasn't a challenge to me anymore." So instead of dancing on a bull's back for a living, this cowboy started disco dancing in front of the bull's face—to the tune of I'm Your Boogie Man by KC and the Sunshine Band. "That's my trademark," he says.

But the job isn't all Saturday-night fever. He goes to the stock manager and questions him about the bulls. He already knows the stock, but he leaves as little as possible to chance. That's one reason he's among the best.

The program begins with either bareback riding, steer wrestling, calf roping or one of the other events that keep a crowd in the stands while they wait for the bull riding.

During that time Coffee is out in the arena clowning around with a calf rope. He's lassoing women barrel racers after they've finished their ride, bucking-event cowboys who lean up against the chutes and J.G. Crouch, his partner at this rodeo.

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