You'd love Bebe Jones. She's a Doris Day type with a cowgirl drawl who finagles publicity for the Texas Rowels. The world is full of easier jobs. The Rowels are San Antonio's team in Major League Rodeo, a new sports league that is a secret to everyone but the next of kin. So when a city-slicker reporter called, Jones said, "C'mon over, and make sure to wear your cowboy boots, y'hear?"
Hey, Bebe, first tell me what's a Rowel?" the reporter asked.
"Don'tcha know what a spur is?"
"You Easterners, all smart-faces. A rowel is the little star thing that jingles at the end of the spur. The pointy thing horses hate."
Well, you learn something every day.
Did you know, for instance, that the star of the Tulsa Twisters rodeo team is a bull rider from the Bronx?
"Come on, Bebe, you ain't talking to no green-horn," the city slicker said. "Everybody knows all rodeo guys are from Broken Arrow, Okla. No bull rider is from the Bronx."
"Swear to God," she said with a smile.
Now, would Doris Day lie?
We'll get to Delvechio in a minute, at which time he'll tell us about a place called Cowtown, N.J., but first some basic facts about Major League Rodeo . . .
The league has six teams - the Rowels, the Salt Lake City Buckaroos, the Denver Stars, the Tulsa Twisters, the Kansas City Trailblazers and the Los Angeles Outlaws . . . Competition by calf ropers, barrel racers, team ropers and steer wrestlers is head to head, as opposed to ordinary rodeo in which the work is done individually against a clock . . . The rodeos operate on a traditional-sports scoring system, making possible newspaper head-lines such as, "Rowels Dust Off Outlaws, 56-47."
Given time, Major League Rodeo can be big stuff, according to the Rowels' president, an ambling Slim Pickens type named John Ritter III. They call him "Trips," which is short for Triple-III.Trips had on his cowboy boots and string tie when he said."Rodeo has gotten to be more than a Texas sport, it's a countrywide sport. What we're trying to do with Major League Rodeo is emphasize that cowboys are athletes. In the past, rodeos have been treated like three-ring circuses or Wild West shows. We try to make it a sporting event."
So the cowboys are called "players." The rodeos, which are "games," are divided into "halves." The San Antonio papers run the league standings, with games behind, next to the baseball standings.
Rowel Coach Bob Blackwood, 34, is a lifelong rodeoer. He thinks America is dazed by basketball ("too much constant motion") and tired of football ("just too much"). Rodeo is the answer, he said, and he sees a day when the cowboys will fill 50,000-seat arenas and ride bulls on national television.
"Then everybody can be an all-around living room cowboy." Blackwood said brightly.
And Bobby Delvechio would be a star. The bull riden from the Bronx is dark, handsome, a delight in conversation. What a story it could be. Here is this street urchin sitting on a curb in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. When what comes along? A Brahma bull. Natives flee. They can handle cops. Muggers, not to worry. A Brahma bull? Time to worry. But not this brave, little street urchin. He leaps onto the rampaging brute and before you can say Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! he has the half-ton of animal savagery purring.
"What happened," said Delvechio, ruining a good story with the facts, "is that my daddy used to drive me to school and I'd walk in the front door and out the back."
Frank Delvechio noticed. When his son wanted to quit school after the seventh grade, he said all right. He'd taken his boy the 110 miles to the Cowtown rodeos every weekend since Bobby was 9 and he knew what was happening.
"My daddy said. 'If you want to do this rodeo stuff, go ahead. Just be good at it," the bull rider from the Bronx said.
Delvechio is good at it. Second in a world-championship rodeo last season, he once rode 38 straight bulls, hanging on to these devils incarnate for eight seconds, an astonishing feat something akin to misfiring 38 straight times at Russian Roulette. Midway through this Major League Rodeo season, he is the league's leading bull rider.
Delvechio is 21, 5-foot-6 and 160. He will ride in maybe 135 rodeos this year. He will ride these pieces of hell on hoof maybe 300 times, knowing any one of them could break him into pieces. (It's broken bones you want? "My ribs, most all of them, have been broken. My wrist, fingers, shoulder blades. Nothing serious, though.")
For such work, Delvechio may earn $20,000 this year. That is before he takes out $15,000 for expenses. Delvechio says rodeo cowboys help each other out, paying entry fees for going-bad colleagues. They share rooms share meals.
"When you get hungry, you go to riding good," he said.
Bebe Jones was on the telephone the other day, saying Delvechio and the league's best cowboys would get together for an all-star game July 24.
"It'll be at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas," she said.
A rodeo at Caesar's Palace? Starring a bull rider from the Bronx? Maybe he'll ride a roulette wheel.