NEW YORK ― Bull riding in New York is becoming a common occurrence.
However, the story of Bobby DelVecchio growing up to become not only the most famous, but also the only professional bull rider to be born and raised in the Bronx remains an anomaly.
Bobby and his father Frank, who passed away in 2000, discovered bull riding together and eventually the younger DelVecchio, who would go on to become one of 20 founders of the PBR, began competing at a weekly rodeo in Pilesgrove, N.J., which is two hours southwest of this weekend's Built Ford Tough Series event in midtown Manhattan.
Unlike his grandmother Angelia, who never left the New York borough that has played home to the New York Yankees for decades, DelVecchio ventured west, became a professional bull rider (instead of a baseball player) and, although his career was prior to the formation of the PBR, he was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2006 ― a year before the PBR held its first event at Madison Square Garden.
The 2013 season marks the seventh consecutive year that Madison Square Garden has played host to the PBR (dating back to January of 2007). In the past three years, it's become something of a tradition for the BFTS to kick off the season in what is commonly referred to as the world's most famous arena.
Throughout the season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "Bulls on Broadway" is the first in an ongoing series of moments.
When it comes to the continued success of the PBR in New York, DelVecchio once asked, "What fan ever walked up to a cowboy and didn't embrace them?"
"Taxi cabs were flying by us as we were getting on our bulls."
PBR co-founder Cody Lambert agreed.
"In 2000, the first year the PBR came here, everyone wanted to stop us on the streets and talk to us, so we could explain to them what we were doing there," said Lambert, who currently serves as PBR livestock director. "When they saw you with a cowboy hat on, they wanted to know, 'What are cowboys doing in the middle of New York?'
"The difference now is that when someone stops me on the street, they tell me how they watch bull riding on TV, or how they came to the Garden to see the Built Ford Tough Series. Or they say, 'We heard you guys were in town.'"
Nowadays, no one asks why there are so many cowboys in Manhattan.
In fact, the sight of cowboy hats in midtown signifies the start of a New Year for the locals in as much the same way as America used to gather around their TV to watch the late Dick Clark host his annual New Year's Eve special.
Lambert said it all adds up to a feeling that the PBR has truly arrived.
In 2010, the PBR also played host to a nationally-televised event in the middle of Times Square a week before the World Finals.
What was thought to be a once-in-a-lifetime event took place on a Friday afternoon in late October ― less than a week before the World Finals began in Las Vegas.
Ten of the top riders in the world ― Austin Meier, J.B. Mauney, Valdiron de Oliveira, Ryan McConnel, Mike Lee, Robson Palermo, Travis Briscoe, McKennon Wimberly, Shane Proctor and Silvano Alves ― were introduced one at a time, and shortly thereafter, the PBR, which had long since established itself as a progressive organization, held a bull riding event in one of the most recognizable locales in the world.
It was the last of the Final Five Showdowns on the road to Vegas, and it featured 10 men all vying for a world title.
The event, which was broadcast two days later on CBS, also featured 10 equally rank bulls ― Skyhawk Cut a Rug, Flying J Saddles, Chicken Lickin, Bird Creek, Little Mr. T, Mac Nett's El Presidente, Bandalero, Despicable Me, Hypnotized and Hank.
Jeff Robinson, who hauled all the bulls used for the event ― and has since been named Stock Contractor of the Year in three back-to-back-to-back seasons ― called it, "Unbelievable."
Proctor called it "a whole other experience," and said that "everything was coming at you at 100 miles an hour." From the back of the bucking chutes, Proctor said the riders could see out over some of the surrounding cross streets.
"Taxi cabs were flying by us as we were getting on our bulls," Proctor said.
"I don't even know how to explain it," said bullfighter Frank Newsom, before putting the moment into perspective. "(Twenty) years ago, 20 cowboys came together in a hotel room ― essentially ― and decided to form the Professional Bull Riders, and now here we are in Times Square. To think about what must be going through (their) minds right now. It (has) to be one of the highlight moments."
During commercial breaks, Newsom gazed around at various skyscrapers and said afterward, "You could see in the office buildings over there that all the people in the office building were just glued to the windows."
The continued success can be traced back to former CEO Randy Bernard, whose vision and foresight ― when it came to the PBR being in New York and more specifically, Madison Square Garden ― firmly planted the organization closer to its goal of mainstream recognition.
The PBR at Madison Square Garden.
While some doubted the long-range success, Bernard knew of the rich western history that the city had.
As a matter of fact, Lambert's grandfather, George Cosper, used to participate in a month-long rodeo at the old Madison Square Garden location.
Cosper participated in the 1940s. At that point, the New York rodeo was well-established and believed by some to be the biggest rodeo in the world at the time.
Lambert said his grandfather told him stories about the livestock going from Texas to Fort Madison, Iowa, where they would stop before loading the train back up and heading east to New York (and eventually on toward Boston for another multi-week event).
Gene Autry first earned his fame by performing there, and before that, Will Rogers also performed at the famed New York rodeo. Rogers started his career as a trick roper, but then began a stage show and eventually used political humor in his act.
Like the PBR, only the top competitors were allowed to compete.
However, unlike the PBR, bull riders back then were at the bottom of the rodeo food chain.
They were looked upon as the guys who lacked qualified cowboy skills ― namely roping ― and therefore were paid the least amount of money.
That perception changed with each subsequent decade, especially with the growing popularity of Jim Shoulders and then Larry Mahan. Now, bull riding is the marquee event.
This year, the PBR is celebrating 20 years of competition.
PBR broadcasts reach over half a billion households in 50 nations and territories around the world, and over 2.5 million fans attend PBR events each year. The organization has awarded more than $120 million dollars in prize money over 20 years of competition, including a $1 million dollar bonus to the PBR World Champion each year.
Mauney (2007 and 2009) and Oliveira (2008 and 2011) have each won twice in New York, while Cody Nance is the defending champion. Proctor won in 2010.
The backstage halls of the Garden are lined with framed photos of the Knicks and the Rangers, along with Elvis Presley and Billy Joel. There are also photos of boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
"What are cowboys doing in the middle of New York?"
It's precisely the type of celebrated venue the founders ― Ty Murray, Tuff Hedeman, Cody Custer, Ted Nuce, Jerome Davis, Jim Sharp, Michael Gaffney, David Bailey Jr., Clint Branger, Mark Cain, Adam and Gilbert Carrillo, Mike Erikson, David Fournier, Scott Mendes, Daryl Mills, Aaron Semas, Brent Thurman, Lambert and DelVecchio ― dreamed of competing in, and today, there's a framed photo of a past PBR event among the historic events hosted at the venerable building located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.
"Every time we have a sellout somewhere like Madison Square Garden, I think of the people who didn't want us to reach for the stars," Lambert said. "They wanted to restrict us to the goals of event promoters and rodeo producers. I think about that and I hope those people are watching television and they see that we're in the media capital of the world.
Click HERE to check out photos from past PBR events in New York.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.