You can have a kid," drawls Denny McCoy, "and when he's born, you
can say, 'I'm gonna make him a pro basketball player.' But that
doesn't mean he'll be one." McCoy, 52, is behind the wheel of his
blue Chevy truck--the one with 300,000 miles and a bug-spattered
windshield--preaching with his right hand, pulling up to an Arby's
with his left. His cowboy hat hides his eyes. "But with these two
kids, it has to be a God-given gift. I've led them as well as I
could, but they have been blessed. Really blessed."
McCoy pauses, rolls down the window and spits out a lip-sized wad
of tobacco. It has not occurred to him that relating Divinity to
one's ability to hang on to a wild steer is sort of funny. Here
in Oklahoma, rodeo is serious business. "Jet and Cord," he says,
This is doctrine in Tupelo (pop. 323), a sleepy town of three
stores, four churches and one post office. Jet and Cord McCoy are
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "They
represent something here," says Tony Stevens, Tupelo High's
superintendent. "People follow Jet and Cord. We believe in them."
In only their second year on the International Professional Rodeo
Association circuit, Jet, 19, and Cord, 18, are dominating a
sport that until now had been the province of the 21-and-over
set. Cord, the one with fiery red hair and a toothy smile,
shocked the rodeo world last year by becoming the first high
schooler to win the all-around title at the International Finals
Rodeo, the IPRA's championship event. Jet, more reserved, with
dark hair and a bowlegged strut, broke his wrist in that
tournament (he was on pace to finish second) but still was named
the IPRA's Rookie of the Year. More impressive yet, the McCoys
are the only cowboys on tour to compete regularly in all of the
three toughest events--bull riding, bareback riding and saddle
September 20, 1998
"Very seldom do you see guys this good, this versatile, this
young," says Raymie Neal, 39, an IPRA cowboy from Cordova, Tenn.
"They're the future."
At this statement Denny, the father, manager and mentor, rolls
his eyes. Future? This is now, baby. Last year, as IPRA rookies,
Jet and Cord entered more than 100 pro and high school rodeos,
winning a combined $100,000 in prize money. Between them they
failed to earn prize money in only 11 competitions. "That," says
Denny, "is unheard of." With two months left in '98 IPRA season,
which ends Nov. 30, Jet--competing again after his injury--is third
in the all-around, with 31,139.64 points, and Cord is fourth,
with 28,884.38. They are in the top 10 in all three of their
riding events, and, whether their rivals admit it or not, they
are the hottest thing on the circuit since starched Wranglers.
This is no shocker to Denny and Janet McCoy, a couple of
horse-riding, cattle-raising, barbecue-eating rodeo buffs who
spoon-fed the sport to their five children--besides Jet and Cord,
sons Justen, 31, and JoRay, 25, and daughter Nikki, 28--from an
early age. Justen competed for a while though he didn't enjoy the
traveling that it required, but JoRay is a professional saddle
bronc rider. "It wasn't like we were forced into it," says
Nikki, a teacher in Ada, Okla. "When you grow up in this family,
it's just a way of life."
Denny, an Iowan who moved to Oklahoma 30 years ago to attend
Oklahoma State, was a second-generation professional cowboy who
retired in his mid-20s to marry Janet and work as a rancher.
Janet, an Oklahoman, was a nationally ranked barrel racer.
Jet and Cord were shown the way not long after birth. Justen
would put the two toddlers, still in diapers, on a pony, which
would buck the tots off. "They never cried or anything," says
Justen. "They'd fall off, get up and get back on. They were tough
Jet was five when he won his first junior competition; Cord was
eight. On the family's 640-acre cattle ranch in Tupelo, the
brothers practiced riding a mechanical bull next to the house. As
the years went by, they dominated the high school ranks, winning
junior title after junior title.
This year, with Dad behind the wheel, the McCoys will compete in
about 85 rodeos. During one stretch last summer they rode in 18
rodeos in as many days. It is not unusual for the McCoys to hit
the road on Friday and return home on Sunday morning just in time
to make it to the services at the Tupelo Church of Christ.
"Rodeo is a funny sort of thing," says Cord, a senior in high
school. "There are cowboys who lose the love for it, and you can
see that through performance. They'll start slipping a bit,
lacking a little concentration. You have to have total love for
it, total attention, or the bull will eat you alive."
Adds Jet, a freshman at Oklahoma State, about an hour and a half
from home, "To travel as much as we do, you better love it. Or
else you're crazy."
The McCoys, by most accounts, are not crazy. Just fearless. At
the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association's two-day event in
Comanche in May, Jet won the bull-riding competition in driving
rain atop an incensed beast that made Godzilla look as mean as
Papa Smurf. Cord, not to be upstaged, took the next day's
bareback crown. "That's why they're stars already," says Jordan
Weisman, an 18-year-old who wrestles steers. "Look at how they
handle things--like they've been doing it for years."
Both McCoys have an uncanny sense of balance and weight--where to
be on the animal, which way to shift, how to lean backward but
not too far. "I guess it's instinct," says Jet. "After all this
time, you just know."
As the second day of the Comanche rodeo came to an end, Jet and
Cord stood together under a flickering light, going over what
went right and, more important, what went wrong. They are best
friends, passionate partners who speak of past superstars--Ty
Murray, Phil Lyne, Mike Outhier--and dream of sibling dominance of
the rodeo circuit. "We'd like to be part of history," says Jet.
"I don't like to brag, and neither does Cord, but everybody
remembers how good Ty Murray was in high school, and people come
up to us and say, 'Ty Murray never rode as good as you guys do at
this age.' That makes you think. After all, he's a living
Jet and Cord McCoy are not yet living legends. But if God is
truly a rodeo fan, who's to say they won't be?
"You have to have total love for it, total attention," says Cord,
"or the bull will eat you alive."