To celebrate this year’s 50th annual National Finals Rodeo, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff Wolf consulted with several rodeo veterans to help determine the most memorable editions of the world’s richest rodeo.
Wolf, who has covered the NFR since 1999, has selected the 10 best, and the countdown to No. 1 begins here.
1959, Dallas State Fair Grounds
Dates: Dec. 26 to 30
Event attendance: 54,000
The first National Finals Rodeo was in Dallas. It remains one of the greatest ever, and not just because it was the first “World Series of Rodeo.”
The 10 performances in five days marked the last world championships for two of rodeo’s all-time greats.
Casey Tibbs returned to rodeo after taking four years off to focus on an acting career, but didn’t show any rust while winning his ninth saddle bronc riding title.
And Jim Shoulders won his 15th and 16th world titles in all-around and bull riding.
Many didn’t appreciate that the inaugural championships started on the day after Christmas.
The Finals was a concept promoted for years by Tibbs.
Shoulders called it the “greatest sports showcase in professional rodeo” and gave Tibbs credit for bringing it to fruition.
Rodeo world champions had been crowned since 1929 but lacked an all-star type of event.
Las Vegan Bert France was 21 when he won three bareback riding go-rounds to earn $1,215 in the NFR. He finished 11th in the season standings with $7,566.