PUEBLO, Colo. ― Back when Tom Teague first got involved with the Professional Bull Riders he said it was obvious which bull was the best.
Little Yellow Jacket had yet to win the first of his three World Champion Bull titles, but no matter who he asked ― riders like Ross Coleman, Jim Sharp and Adriano Moraes, or PBR livestock director Cody Lambert ― they all told him the same thing.
Teague was persistent in becoming partners with Joe Berger.
Early in 2002, he was in Denver, Colo., when he approached Berger.
Teague told the lifelong bull man that he had heard great things about his young bull and wanted nothing more than to buy half interest in him. Berger laughed. He told the North Carolina native that he wasn't interested in selling any part of Little Yellow Jacket until after he won a world title.
Later that year, Little Yellow Jacket won what would be the first of three consecutive World Champion Bull titles.
No sooner had he claimed the title when Teague re-approached Berger for a second time. "He named a price," Teague said, "and I bought in just like that."
"Little Yellow Jacket sets the Standard" is the second in a
season-long series of features examining the Top 20 Moments in PBR
Chris Shivers vs. Little Yellow Jacket in 2003. Check out the full photo gallery HERE.
Little Yellow Jacket won World Champion Bull titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and has since been immortalized in a statue located in front of the PBR headquarters along with Moraes, the only three-time World Champion bull rider.
In 2011, shortly after his death, Little Yellow Jacket became the first recipient of the Brand of Honor, presented annually to a bull for exemplary performance.
"We speak about the heart of a champion and I think he was born that way. I truly do," said Michael Gaffney, who rode him for 96.5 points two-thirds of the way through the 2004 season, in Nampa, Idaho. "He obviously had the heart and the tools. He showed it every time. Every time they opened the gate there was never a falter in that bull."
The day Little Yellow Jacket passed away, Teague said, "He was a great bull and I am forever grateful to the Bergers. I feel honored that they would sell him to me and, at the same time, I feel honored to have the sense to buy him."
Teague, who bought the remaining 50 percent interest in Little Yellow Jacket after his retirement from the PBR, said Little Yellow Jacket will forever be his hero.
"We speak about the heart of a champion and I think he was born that way. I truly do."
Throughout his career he was known for being relaxed at the many venues in which he competed.
Little Yellow Jacket was known for lying down in his pen and patiently waiting for his turn. He was also comfortable with the large crowds, bright lights and pyrotechnics of the Built Ford Tough Series.
"He evolved from good to being the greatest, or one of the greatest, because of being immature and having to find his way and evolve into the machine and the great athlete he eventually became," Gaffney said.
Slade Long, the statistician of the PBR, said Little Yellow Jacket ought to remembered for having "no bad outs, longevity and average ride score."
After getting riders off his back ― he had an impressive 84.4 percent buckoff rate and the 14 riders who managed to make the whistle averaged 93 points ― he would stand in the middle of the arena with chest bowed. According to Teague, it was if he was asking, "Who's next?"
Gaffney's 96.5 point effort on Little Yellow Jacket tied the all-time high-marked ride in the PBR.
According to Gaffney, who had bucked off of him the week before his career best outing, Little Yellow Jacket was the total package.
He bucked, kicked, changed directions and had as much intensity as any bull he had seen. Gaffney said all the components made for a "full load" when you nodded your head. There was nothing easy about his pattern in which Gaffney vividly remembers there being a hop, skip and even a hesitation (when needed) that would rock riders back on their pockets before bringing them down over his front end.
And, of course, his power only compounded the difficulty.
Three other riders - Cory McFadden (95), Cody Whitney (94.75) and Jim Sharp (94.5) - are among the top scores on the list of the "50 Highest Scores in PBR History." Only Promise Land and Dillinger were ridden more times for a Top 50 score than Little Yellow Jacket.
He was not kind to those who earned a score, which is why Teague was frightened to see his wife Penny standing next to the pen in Colorado Springs, Colo., petting his nose just before he matched up with Chris Shivers for a $1 million.
Teague heard stories and watched as the bull would try and go after riders ― "After the ride they better be headed to the fence," Teague recalled ― which is why it scared him to see Penny standing so close.
But Teague's attention that night quickly turned to the Shivers matchup.
"Truly," he said, "I wanted Chris Shivers to ride him. Nothing would have made me happier than to see Chris win a $1 million."
Shivers bucked off in less than two seconds and instead Teague and Berger split $50,000. That night Teague consoled a disappointed Shivers by offering to fly him and his wife Kylie home to Jonesville, La., in his private jet.
Teague recalled Shivers made flight sitting in the co-pilot seat of the Lear jet.
"I said, 'See Chris, it ain't all bad,'" Teague joked.
Little Yellow Jacket lived in North Carolina for the five years preceding his death, where Teague said, "He lived the good life."
He was cared for on one of his ranches by Lee Holt, who co-manages the ranch with Randy Teague, and Teague's longtime bull man Boyce Knox.
His last set of natural-calves were born last year.
When asked to describe Little Yellow Jacket, Teague compared him to the famous triple crown-winning thoroughbred Secretariat and simply said, "He's a winner."
Teague added: "He was a character. He walked around like he was hot stuff, and he was."
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