Tuf Cooper always remembers his dad being a big deal.
He knew his father was someone special. He could see it in the awe-stricken faces of the young cowboys who would show up at Tuf’s house to learn from the great Roy Cooper, who will be inducted in the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame with five others on Aug. 4.
“The way people would look at him when they showed up at my house,” said Tuf, 24, the youngest of Roy’s three sons. “The way Cody (Ohl) would talk to my dad. The way Trevor (Brazile) would look at and talk to my dad. I thought it was cool that people wanted my dad’s autograph.”
Both Ohl and Brazile, who later became Roy’s son-in-law, would go on to win multiple Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association world championships. Tuf won the 2011 world championship in tie-down roping.
They are just three of hundreds of cowboys who were influenced by the eight-time world champion roper called the Super Looper.
“He’s had a huge impact on everybody,” Tuf said of his father. “The one thing every roper knows, if you are down and you are not winning, it doesn’t matter if you are family or not, you can call Roy. He will make you forget about all the bad runs you had.”
Roy Cooper, 58, was born in Hobbs, N.M., but always had Oklahoma blood running through his veins. His mother, Betty Rose Cooper (or Granny Rose as Tuf calls her) grew up just outside of Lawton.
Cooper grew up on a ranch and his father, Tuffy Cooper, was a livestock inspector and champion roper in college. Both his parents and his siblings were ropers so Roy thought that it was what he should do, too.
By the time he was 12 years old, Roy Cooper knew he wanted to be a rodeo cowboy. He won a high school national championship and a junior college national championship.
He then joined the rodeo team for Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, helping to lead the team to two national titles.
He would live in Durant for 12 years, and it was during his time in Oklahoma that he would have his most success in the PRCA.
Of Cooper’s eight world championships, six were in tie-down roping, one in steer roping and one all-around. He won the coveted Triple Crown (tie-down roping, steer roping and all-around titles in the same season) in 1983.
Cooper, who now lives in Decatur, Texas, qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 20 times. He made 13 trips to the National Finals Steer Roping.
South Dakota cowboy Paul Tierney, a Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer, said Cooper raised the bar for everyone when he bought his PRCA card.
In 1976, Cooper won his first world tie-down championship and the PRCA’s rookie of the year award, breaking the record for the most prize money earned in a season by a rookie.
Unlike other cowboys, Cooper never worried about what calf he would draw at a rodeo, Tierney said.
“He wasn’t concerned about getting the best calf,” Tierney said. “He would just take what was handed to him and rope and jump off and usually beat your butt. He tied faster. He had a different tie than anybody else in the game, in what we call the short wrap.
“He changed the way people roped cattle. I tried to learn from him. I observed him a lot, watched what he did and didn’t do. I was hoping to beat him.”
Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Barry Burk, who was raised in Duncan and now lives in Durant, was at the end of his career when Cooper arrived.
“When he was on a good horse, Roy Cooper was unbeatable,” Burk said. “I just don’t think you can put anybody above him. He’s probably the greatest roper that has ever been, in my opinion. What he could do in the arena was unreal.”
Cooper was the fastest with a rope and every young cowboy in the game idolized him, Burk said.
“My son Blair probably thinks more of Roy Cooper than he does of me,” Burk said. “When he was young, he was so darn good. He hardly ever made any mistakes. He was such a big, big name in the world of rodeo. He is probably the biggest name there is in the calf roping world.”
Joe Beaver of Huntsville, Texas, was Cooper’s traveling partner off and on for a decade. In a sport whose participants take pride in toughness, Beaver never saw a fiercer competitor than Cooper.
“There wasn’t anybody tougher and more competitive in their time than Roy Cooper,” said Beaver, who won five tie-down titles and three all-round gold buckles.
“Roy went through a lot of injuries and always would come back just as competitive and just as tough as he was before. That takes a different breed.”
Beaver said one thing he learned from Cooper was to spend whatever is necessary to buy the best horses.
“He said, ‘Buy the good ones. They will make you better.’ I did that from then on,” Beaver said.
Tuf was just 10 years old when his father made the National Finals Rodeo for the last time. He said what made his father great was the way he prepared.
“Every practice session was like the first round of the National Finals Rodeo,” Tuf said. “The most intense practice sessions I have seen to this day.”
Tuf tries to prepare for each rodeo with the same intensity as his father.
“He’s pushed me to want to be great,” said Tuf, who still telephones his dad before and after every run he makes at a rodeo.
For Tuf, having Roy Cooper as a father is like having an ace in the hole.
“We don’t have coaches out there on the road,” Tuf said. “We don’t have someone watching over every move we make. I need him knowing how I am doing and how I am feeling.
“He keeps me focused. He keeps me positive. He’s been in every situation. He knows and he’s mastered every situation, every rodeo, every arena and every calf. It’s an advantage.”
Even at age 58, Roy Cooper is still influencing the game.
Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame inductees
The induction ceremony for the 2014 class of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame is Monday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Leading up to the ceremony, we will be profiling the six inductees. Here is the schedule:
* Today: Roy Cooper
* Thursday: Mick Cornett
* Friday: Gerald Tucker
* Saturday: Leslie O’Neal
* Sunday: J.C. Watts
* Monday: Darrell Porter