These athletes set the mark for achievement in the arena. See if you agree.
By Neil Reid
Jim Shoulders (PRCA ProRodeo File Photo)
Jim Shoulders was a 16-time world champion and all-around top hand. The ProRodeo Hall of Famer was best known for bull riding, where he won seven gold buckles, but he also claimed five all-around gold crowns and four bareback riding titles. He’s the only person to win three Triple Crowns winning three gold buckles in the same year from 1956–58. And he’s considered one of the toughest men to ever wear a cowboy hat. Shoulders competed with broken bones in his riding hand and never complained about the pain.
The face of the sport in the 1950s and a friendly rival of Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs is widely considered the best saddle-bronc rider ever. He’s tied with Dan Mortensen with six saddle-bronc riding world titles, but Tibbs also won a bareback riding gold buckle and was a two-time all-around world champ, winning nine world titles in all. The Hall of Famer is an undisputed great and helped put the sport on the pop culture map when he appeared on the cover of the Oct. 22, 1951 issue of Life magazine.
No cowboy has dominated the roping events the way Trevor Brazile has. The numbers during his 15-year career are staggering: Brazile has two Triple Crowns (2007 and 2010), a total of 14 world titles (the third most in ProRodeo history), including a record eight all-around championships. He has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in four events (team roping header, team roping heeler, tie-down roping, and steer roping), and he completed the career Grand Slam by winning a team roping gold buckle last year. No wonder he’s the only cowboy with more than $4 million in career earnings.
The quintessential all-around cowboy, Ty Murray won six consecutive all-around gold buckles from 1989–94 and finished with seven during his Hall-of-Fame career. He also claimed two bull riding gold buckles and could ride anything that bucked, scoring a major blow to the PRCA by founding the offshoot Professional Bull Riders tour. Not only did he win six consecutive all-around crowns, but he did so in dominating fashion, finishing at least $95,000 ahead of the second-place cowboy five of six times (and marrying singer Jewel).
Hall-of-Famer Roy “Super Looper” Cooper is the only cowboy besides Trevor Brazile to win a Triple Crown in the past 50 years. The first cowboy to earn $2 million in career earnings, Cooper won eight world titles, including six in tie-down roping. His other two came in steer roping and the all-around. He was known for practicing incessantly and for his nearly flawless technique. And the legacy continues with his three sons—Clint, Clif, and Tuf—who have each qualified for the National Finals Rodeo. —Neil Reed
Honorable mentions: Charmayne James (11 barrel racing world titles), Guy Allen (18 steer roping gold buckles), Dean Oliver (11 world titles); Everett Bowman (10 world titles, two Triple Crowns), and Tom Ferguson (nine gold buckles).