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Meet NFR’s all-time top cowboys

Updated November 29, 2022 - 9:48 am

There were famous singing cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

And ones who had starred on silver screens, with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper among those coming to mind.

But when it comes to real cowboys — the kind that Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson say mamas should not let their babies grow up to be —you’d be hard-pressed to top the ones who compete at the National Finals Rodeo.

Here are 11 of the best — one representing each of the sport’s seven disciplines and three all-around cowboys in multiple events — who had few equals when it came to ridin’, ropin’ and the ability to git-R-done:

Bruce Ford

Event: Bareback

Hometown: Greeley, Colorado

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 1993

World Titles: 5 (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1987)

NFR Qualifications: 19

Did you know: In 1982, Ford became the first cowboy to win more than $100,000 in a single event in one year.

Luke Branquinho

Event: Steer wrestling

Hometown: Los Alamos, California

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: Still active

World Titles:5 (2004, 2008, 2011-12, 2014)

NFR Qualifications: 14

Did you know: Branquinho has Type I diabetes and uses an insulin pump to keep his blood glucose levels under control.

Speed Williams and Rich Skelton

Event: Team roping

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida (Williams); Llano, Texas (Skelton)

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2018 (Williams); still active (Skelton)

World Titles: 8 (1997-04)

NFR Qualifications: 15 (Williams); 22 (Skelton)

Did you know: Williams is one of only seven team ropers to make it to the NFR as both a header and a heeler.

Dan Mortensen

Event: Saddle bronc

Hometown:Billings, Montana

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2009

World Titles: 6 (1993-95, 1997-98, 2003)

NFR Qualifications: 16

Did you know: During his final world championship season of 2003, Mortensen became the first roughstock cowboy in PRCA history to surpass $2 million in career earnings.

Fred Whitfield

Event: Tie-down roping

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2004

World Titles: 7 (1991, 1995-96, 1999-2000, 2002, 2005)

NFR Qulifications: 20

Did you know: Whitfield became the first Black competitor to win the all-around cowboy title in 1999.

Charmayne James

Event: Barrel racing

Hometown: Clayton, New Mexico

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2017

World Titles: 11 (1984-93, 2002)

NFR Qualifications: 19

Did you know: James won her first world title in 1984 when she was 14.

Don Gay

Event: Bull riding

Hometown: Mesquite, Texas

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 1979

World Titles: 8 (1974-77, 1979-81, 1984)

NFR Qualifications: 13

Did you know: Gay often flew himself to rodeo events in a private plane after acquiring a pilot’s license.

Trevor Brazile

Event: All-around cowboy

Hometown: Decatur, Texas

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2022

World Titles:14 (2002-15, 2018)

NFR Qulifications: 31

Did you know: Brazile won 26 world titles, eight more than Guy Allen (18) and 10 more than Jim Shoulders (16). youtub

Ty Murray

Event: All-around cowboy

Hometown: Stephenville, Texas

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 2000

World Titles: 7 (1989-94, 1998)

NFR Qualifications: 19

Did you know: Murray and his former wife, the singer-songwriter Jewel, were contestants during the eighth season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Larry Mahan

Event: All-around cowboy

Hometown: Salem, Oregon

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame: 1979

World Titles: 6 (1966-70, 1973)

NFR Qualifications: 27

Did you know: Mahan began competing in pro rodeo at age 14, won two world bull riding world titles and was featured in the 1973 Oscar-winning documentary “The Great American Cowboy.” ◆

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