Leon Coffee started in rodeo as a bull rider and around 1969 he made the transition to bullfighter. In 1979 he got his PRCA card and in his rookie year as a bullfighter he made the NFR as a bullfighter. This was around the time that bullfighters were in flux — some still fit the mold of “rodeo clowns,” while others were solidly in the “cowboy protection” camp. Leon Coffee was an outstanding bullfighter. He was solid in his cowboy protection skills, but Leon loved to make people laugh.
Once his role of cowboy protection was done and the rider was safe, Coffee would assume his “rodeo clown” persona. It was not an act, it was just Leon being Leon. He would dance right in front of bulls, and it sometimes seemed to totally confuse them. The rodeo fans loved it and Leon Coffee was dubbed “The Disco Cowboy.” Somewhere along the way, after 140 different bone breaks, Leon Coffee decided it was time to become a Barrelman.
“In 1986 a bull kicked me on the side of my face and it was such a traumatic blow that it told my heart to stop beating. So I literally died five times that night and five times the doctors brought me back.” said Coffee. That would have been enough to stop most people, but Leon Coffee kept working. All the abuse to his body would eventually hasten his becoming a Barrelman.
“I’ve got an artificial knee and I’ve got plastic in my face and jaw. I tore up my knees and I got to the point that I knew that I was not doing my job,” said Coffee, “I knew that I had the wisdom to do it, but I knew that I didn’t have the facilities to do it physically any more.”
Leon Coffee has always had the gift of making people laugh so he became a barrelman — and he became a very good one! He was the NFR Barrelman in 1991, 1994 and 1998. Leon Coffee worked the Greeley Stampede from 1980 through 1998 and made a lot of friends in Greeley, Colo.
This year the Greeley Stampede invited Leon Coffee back to Greeley to be the Barrelman for the 90th Greeley Independence Stampede. Kasie Pigg, 2010 Miss Rodeo Colorado and new Marketing Director for The Stampede said, “Leon was a staple of the Greeley Stampede for many years and to celebrate the 90th year of the Stampede, the committee thought it would be really exciting to have someone that had shared so much of our history with us.”
Leon Coffee jumped at the chance to return to the Greeley arena. “It’s a home coming!” said Leon, “When you’ve got memories that you can walk back into it’s great.” Unfortunately, before Leon got to Greeley, fate dealt him a cruel blow.
In February 2012, Leon was in his barrel at the San Antonio Stock Show, when a bull hit his barrel so hard that the impact broke Coffee’s neck. He went into surgery to fix the problem and during his recovery he contracted bacterial spinal meningitis. He collapsed on his ranch outside of San Antonio, Texas, and was rushed to the hospital where he spent six days, three of them in ICU. According to his doctor Leon is lucky to be alive.
When I booked this rodeo, I hadn’t planned on getting spinal meningitis, and I was really wanting to come backup here and have a great time.” said Coffee, “This spinal meningitis has really taken all the ability to have fun away from me, and I came up here against all recommendations from my doctors. I did it to see everybody and to be able to walk out there in that arena again.”
Leon Coffee was in Greeley, but, up close, it was obvious that it took a lot out of him. Will he be able to work full-time as a barrelman again? “I don’t know.” said Leon, “It’s a lot more difficult to determine what I’m going to do right now because I’ve tried hard to make things right and right now I’m just not capable of doing the job that I want to do.”
With tears in his eyes Leon continued, “I’m going home. If I get healthy enough to come back, I will, but I’ve got to get healthy.” Earlier Leon had said, “You don’t retire from Rodeo, Rodeo retires you.” Let’s hope that Rodeo is not done with Luke “Leon” Coffee just yet. The arena would not be nearly as much fun without him. ❖
“Leon was a staple of the Greeley Stampede for many years and to celebrate the 90th year of the Stampede, the committee thought it would be really exciting to have someone that had shared so much of our history with us.”
~ Kasie Pigg,
Marketing Director for The Greeley Stampede