Matt Sherwood and Allen Bach walked down a tunnel that connects the Thomas & Mack Center to the Cox Pavilion, a small arena that served as an interview station following the 10th and final round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. As they headed toward their respective folding chairs to field questions from reporters from around the globe, it was easy to see the pride of a champion, coupled with a strange bit of awkwardness and confusion.
Sherwood looked to his left and didn't see his yearlong partner, Walt Woodard.
Bach looked to his right and didn't see Chad Masters, his Wrangler NFR team roping header with whom he'd claimed the average title, or any of his various other roping partners from the 2006 season.
But both ended the season as world champions, Sherwood on the heading side for the first time and Bach, for a fourth time, as a heeler. They didn't rope together, but now they stand together in history as the first non-partners to claim world titles since the event began recognizing two world champions in 1995.
"It is unbelievable, and what an honor it is for me to be here," said an ecstatic Sherwood, who sold his flooring store in his hometown of Queen Creek, Ariz., to take on a national schedule and perhaps a shot at his first Wrangler NFR, which he fulfilled in style. "But to be here without Walt makes me look back and see what we could have done better so Walt could be here, too. It's kind of sad to be here without him. It's disappointing to start something with someone and not both end up winning."
Bach, who won previous world titles in 1979, 1990 and 1995, admitted to his latest crown as perhaps carrying the most distinction. And that's quite a bold statement considering that his 1990 title came after he rallied from the No. 15 position, the only timed-event cowboy to ever make that meteoric rise at the NFR.
"Every single title was different, but this is probably the most unique," said Bach, who with Masters set a Wrangler NFR team roping earnings record with $98,714 apiece. "With guys switching partners this year, I knew there was a good chance at having a different header and heeler winning world championships. Both Matt and I have mixed emotions. We're thrilled to be here, but we wish our partners could be here with us."
Sherwood and Woodard, who entered the Finals in first place, struggled in three rounds with double-digit times. They placed in three of the last four rounds, but a critical no-time in the eighth round prevented them from really cashing in on the top spots in the lucrative 10-head average prize.
Bach, who entered the event ranked fourth, roped with 15th-ranked header Masters, and the two immediately found their stride. Bach also had to make a horse change after his regular horse, Hollywood, was injured at the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship in Dallas. He used Jackal, a well known horse ridden many times at the Wrangler NFR by Kory Koontz and now owned by team roper and fellow Texan Michael Jones.
They placed in six rounds, including wins in Rounds 2 and 3. Three consecutive fourth-place finishes put them both on the brink of a world title.
Bach just needed a final-round time to secure the Wrangler NFR average and world titles. It was a mixed bag for Bach and Masters, who stopped the clock in 20.9 seconds after Masters waved off his first head loop and had to use a second loop.
Meanwhile, Sherwood knew just what he needed to do in the rodeo's last team roping run to hold off Masters and win his first world title. He delivered in the clutch, and when the clock stopped at 4.1 seconds, he was assured of his first gold buckle. When the round concluded, Sherwood had edged Masters by just $848.
"From all those steers, it comes down to less than $1,000," Sherwood said. "It was amazing. When the clock stopped at 4.1, I knew it was over and I almost went to tears immediately. Allen and Chad had such a phenomenal Finals. They deserve to be champions, too. This is going to be something that I look back on and am so proud of for the rest of my life."
Years from now when people see the names of Sherwood and Bach as 2006 world champion team ropers, they may not remember their unique stories and the partners who helped elevate them to the top. Sherwood and Bach certainly won't forget.