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Etbauer, Ohl named as Vegas NFR Icons

LAS VEGAS, NV. – The sport of rodeo is ingrained in the Las Vegas community. Each year, more than 170,000 fans pack the Thomas & Mack Center for 10 action packed nights of rodeo. The cowboys and cowgirls that lay it all on the line are never forgotten.

That was on full display on Friday at the Virgin Hotels as ProRodeo legends Cody Ohl and Billy Etbauer (born and raised in South Dakota) were honored as Vegas NFR Icons by Las Vegas Events.

One of the most popular cowboys of his generation, Etbauer won five saddle bronc world titles (1992, 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2004) and garners respect for both his go-for-broke style and his humility during his career that covered parts of four decades. A native of Ree Heights, S.D., he was the middle brother of three world-class bronc riders.

“What a cool deal this whole this is,” said Etbauer.  “You can’t say enough about what it means to you.

professional rodeo cowboy riding a saddle bronc
Five-time NFR Saddle Bronc Champion Billy Etbauer was also inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2012 and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

There are a ton of people that made it possible for me to get to this point in my career. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without Express Ranches and my rodeo family. Every time I was able to ride in Las Vegas was a blast and a blessing for me.”

Etbauer qualified for the NFR in his second year as a professional in 1989. He went on to make the field a record 21 consecutive years, win an NFR-record 51 rounds and surpass $3 million in career earnings. He still shares the NFR record with his 93-point ride on Kesler Championship Rodeo’s Cool Alley in 2003. He tied the record a year later on a 10th-round ride that clinched the last of his five gold buckles.

Ohl put his stamp on ProRodeo in 1994 by winning Rookie of the Year and earning his first trip to the NFR. It would take Ohl a few years to win his first gold buckle. He edged out Fred Whitfield to capture the 1997 Tie-Down Roping World Title and roared through the 1998 season, capturing his second title. He had another record-setting year in 2001 as he added steer roping and team roping in order to compete for the All-Around title. In the ninth round of the NFR, Ohl missed his calf on the first loop. A second loop caught the calf by the hind legs.

As Ohl dismounted, he twisted his knee, tearing two major ligaments. He had to be carried out of the arena by the Justin Sportsmedicine Team. However, he had amassed enough money earlier in the week to secure both the tie-down title and the All-Around title. He accepted both buckles from crutches on the 10th night. He went on to capture his fifth and sixth tie-down roping titles in 2003 and 2006. He still owns the record for the most NFR rounds won, 52.

“2001 was definitely a year that sticks out to me when I think of my time in Las Vegas,” said Ohl. “I didn’t get to finish that year because I blew my knee out, but that year definitely sticks out. Some years I didn’t feel like I put my heart and soul in it, but that year was different. I ended up winning the calf roping and the all-around even with missing the 10th round. 2001 was as special as it gets in my career.”

During the Dec. 8 and 9 performances, each of the rodeo champions will be honored on the hallowed dirt of the Thomas & Mack Center. The presentation will include each receiving a 14″ commemorative bronze statue and a ceremony to unfurl a banner in the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center.

In addition to the banner ceremony during the second and third Wrangler NFR performances, several events are planned for the Icons.

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