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While college rodeo is a team sport, it is also highly individualistic, undoubtedly owing to the fierce independence and toughness inside any real cowboy.
This helped Larry O’Neill, who took advantage of a quirk in the rules to share the 1959 College National Finals Rodeo bareback riding title while attending the University of Texas at Austin.
It was quite an achievement, especially when you consider that UT has never sponsored a rodeo team (doubly odd, too, given that the university’s mascot is a Longhorn). Nevertheless, the rules allow any otherwise qualified college student to compete in National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association-sanctioned regional rodeos, even if their college doesn’t sponsor a team, and thus conceivably qualify for the national finals.
So nothing could stop O’Neill, who had transferred from Sul Ross State University to UT so he could earn a degree in architecture, a program that Sul Ross didn’t offer.
Now retired after a career as an architect, O’Neill remembers driving an old Chevy his parents had given him to rodeos across Texas and Louisiana. “You didn’t have a sponsor and nobody to travel with, but you took off and hoped you’d make enough money to pay for the gasoline,” he said. Once, he hitched a ride with members of the Texas A&M University rodeo team.
Despite his success, O’Neill quit the sport a year later when he decided rodeoing was too dangerous and took too much time from studies.
“Bang! A horse fell on me and broke my foot,” O’Neill said.
“Architecture is too tough a curriculum for me not to be pounding the books all weekend,” he remembers thinking. And so, the college cowboy hung up his spurs.