The cowboy was born out where the cockroaches roam, where the Yanks and the Knickerbockers play, where discouraging words are incessantly heard, and the skies are often cloudy all day—but it may be air pollution, not the weather. Still, being from the Bronx has not prevented Bobby Delvecchio from becoming, at 21, one of rodeo’s top all-around performers.
“I’m not the average local cowboy,” he understates. “I’ve got a little street flash to me. Out there they can tell I’m from New York.” Even back home he stood out, growing up in a mostly Irish neighborhood. “I was the only dago in the herd,” he says. He learned to love horses at the Park Riding Academy, a tumbledown stable nestled in a bend of the Pelham Bay Parkway, where chickens scratch around the hulks of stolen cars that have been stripped and burned.
Delvecchio’s immigrant grandfather drove a horse team for a construction company, and two uncles were jockeys. So he was almost born to the saddle. At 11, when he wasn’t throwing rotten eggs at old men playing handball in a nearby park, he would shepherd the stable’s paying riders along the parkway, making sure they weren’t run over. He had other duties too: “I’d be down at the barn with muck up to my knees and stink bad. On hot days I’d get on the bus and clear out the back.”
A part-time rodeo rider who shoed horses at the stable persuaded Bobby’s father to take him to Cowtown, N.J. for a junior rodeo when the boy was 14. He got on a Brahma bull named Valentine and placed third. “I didn’t know what a rodeo was and I’d never seen a bull,” he recalls. “But I knew I’d found my way of life.”
Bobby quit P.S. 135 after seventh grade to concentrate on riding. “I got tired of taking him to the front door and having him skip out the back,” sighs his father, Frank, a General Motors assembly plant worker for the past 25 years. (Bobby’s parents were divorced when he was 9.) Soon he was competing all over the Eastern circuit, even though he couldn’t yet legally drive a car. Once he hitched a ride on a semi hauling 20 broncos to Florida, telling the driver he could spell him at the wheel. “The guy fell asleep at the top of Georgia,” Delvecchio says. “By the time we got to Florida, I’d stripped all 15 gears.” At the age of 17 Bobby went West. By 1975 he had hit the top 15 in bull riding among the International Rodeo Association’s membership of some 3,000 cowboys.
Today, three years later, he is the star of the Rodeo League’s Tulsa Twisters. In Tulsa he lives with friends, but he spends most of the year on the road—and has completely lost his Bronx accent to an Oklahoma twang. Bull riding is his specialty, a particularly dangerous sport. Some of his competitors prepare themselves for it, Bobby says, with “psychocybernetics—going into a trance before they ride, white-faced, huffing and puffing.” Delvecchio has his own technique: “I flirt with the girls and drink Cokes. If I hang out nonchalant without getting that bull on my mind, I do better. Then I just tighten my spurs and get on him.”
Girlfriends come naturally too. “I’ve got about a hundred of ’em,” Bobby says. “But it ain’t fair to settle down with just one right now. A lot of them are just buckle bunnies, you know. Guys wear big belt buckles, and the bunnies go after the biggest one on a particular night.” (His own enormous silver model came with the 1977 Northeast championship.)
Bull riders are considered old at 30, which leaves Delvecchio time to find himself a ranch—”not much, 50 acres for some calves, my own house and a bunkhouse for Daddy.” The location doesn’t have to be west of the Pecos, but it will certainly be west of the Hudson. “All I miss about the Bronx,” Delvecchio says, “is real good ravioli and the hot dog wagons.”