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RODEO CLOWN LEON COFFEE HAS TO PUT UP WITH A LOT OF BULL ON THE JOB
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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Crouch is not a bullfighter in the sense that Coffee is. He does a dog and donkey act, but he has fought bulls, and tonight he'll use a barrel to distract the bull and to protect Coffee.

Weatherford is an old, classic rodeo, featuring the best cowboys and stock. When it's finally time for the bull riding, Coffee walks up to the chute gate where the first cowboy will be bursting out. Coffee asks him if he knows what the bull is going to do and inquires whether he wants the animal to be taken in a certain direction.

But as Coffee looks over the bull rider, his attention is drawn to the way the cowboy has wrapped the rope over his hands. A bull rope is a flat, braided piece of line that a cowboy runs through a loop and then wraps tightly around his hand. The bull rider, with the help of partners standing on a little platform behind the chutes, tries to pull the bull rope just tight enough for the particular bull he's riding. Put too much of a strain on the wrong bull, and by the swell of his muscles, it'll take that rope out of your hands faster than a heartbeat. If the rope is too loose, you'll be trying to ride off the bull's side one jump out of the chute.

Some cowboys take death grips, trying to glue themselves to the bull by making two wraps around their hand or running the tail of the rope between their ring and little fingers. "And that just naturally scares the daylights out of me," says Coffee.

It should, because if the cowboy bucks off "over his hand," it is going to make Coffee's job of freeing the cowboy that much more dangerous. A rider who gets "over his hand" is thrown forward by the bull in such a manner that his hand twists in the rope and he's hung up beside this giant bucking animal, jerked around like a rag doll and unable to help himself. That's when Coffee has to grab the tail of the bull rope, unwrap the cowboy's hand so that he's freed and then present himself to the bull as a target to distract it from the fallen cowboy. Unfortunately, this most often happens when the rider has gone into "the well," which is what the cowboys call the inside circle of a spinning bull. These days, most professional rodeo bulls are spinning bulls because those are the only ones you can win money on.

Nothing very spectacular happens on the first three bulls out of the chute. Coffee is right in front of them as they explode, slapping them this way and that, controlling them as the riders have requested. But he's worried about the next contestant out, a young rider from Weatherford named Nicky Hite, who hasn't had much experience. Hite has drawn A-16, a bad bull to buck and a bad bull to fight.

This time it goes all right. Nicky is putting a good ride on A-16 until the tie-down on his left spur breaks and he slips off the side, landing on the ground like a heap of laundry. Coffee comes swooping in to take the bull away, and Nicky makes it to the fence.

Now back down in the arena, Coffee and I are talking during a brief break. Sweat is streaking the clown-white makeup on his face. He says, "Man, I don't need any more like that. Maybe the rest of the bulls will be rocking chairs."

But it's not to be. On the sixth bull is Mike Collier, who earlier had asked Coffee about 747. Perhaps because of mixed communications between Coffee and the rodeo stock manager, the bull has been put in the wrong chute.

As Coffee had predicted, it comes exploding out of the gate, makes one jump, then heads for the left-hand corner of the arena and goes into a spin. Coffee tries to slap it back to the right, but the bull has its mind made up and a rodeo bull isn't easy to distract when it's going about its business.

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