Matt Sherwood is two-for-two. The guy has qualified for two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos and has skipped town with two gold buckles. They call that batting a thousand in baseball, and it translates to flat amazing in any professional sport.
Sherwood, who won his first world title in 2006, won the late-season tour finale in Omaha, Neb., both years and was also twice the regular-season leader heading into the NFR. Sherwood, who led the headers pack into the Finals in 2008 with a narrow thousand-dollar margin over Travis Tryan, had mixed emotions when comparing his two crowns. "Your first world championship is something nothing else will ever compare to," he said. "But to sit here with the guy I worked hard with all year long is much more enjoyable."
The last time I sat down with Sherwood in the players and coaches' red folding chairs along the sidelines of the University of Las Vegas Running Rebels' practice basketball court after round 10 at the Finals, he was distracted if not downright depressed, that his partner, Walt Woodard, was out putting the horses up after finishing a close second in the world championship race to Allen Bach. Western Justice took care of that a year later when Woodard and Bach's 2006 partner, Chad Masters, came back and won it all in 2007. "Randon and I will have fond memories about each other for the rest of our lives," said Sherwood, 39. "We get to share this."
Adams, who's 26 now, entered the NFR a little less than $5,000 back of Michael Jones, who heeled for Tryan in Vegas. In addition to winning the ninth round with a 3.7-second run, Sherwood and Adams placed second in rounds three, four and seven, and finished fourth in round 10 and the NFR average with 86.5 seconds on 10 steers. Randon roped or slipped legs in rounds one, two, five (Matt dallied on the knot on that one), six (Matt used a second loop after waving off his first one) and eight. With a total haul of $83,834, Sherwood and Adams were the second winningest team at NFR '08 behind average champs Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith, who raked in $90,144 a man.
Trevor and Patrick roped 10 steers in 60.1 seconds, which is only one second behind the 59.1-second NFR record set by Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper in 1994. Trevor and Patrick won round seven with a 3.9-second run and placed in five others. What's amazing is that they came within a second of Jake and Clay's record with a broken barrier on their ninth steer. Jake and Clay were flawless less one leg in 1994.
As long as I'm digressing from Matt and Randon to bring you more of the NFR team roping big picture, I also want to high five Travis Tryan and Michael Jones for tying the 3.5-second NFR and world team roping record in the eighth round, and Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz for closing out Colter's current competitive career with a 4.0-second round-winning bang in round 10. Then there was the feat of Garrett Tonozzi and Kinney Harrell winning the first two rounds and taking another victory lap in round five; two of the three in 3-second range (3.9 in round two and 3.6 in round five).
While I'm at it, Matt and Randon won $189,568 apiece in 2008. Each set a new PRCA single-season team roping record, Sherwood erasing Masters' 2006 mark of $183,102, and Adams eclipsing Rich Skelton's $180,305 from 2003. Like my old amigo Ty Murray says, money records are made to be broken on an annual basis. They call that progress. The respective reserve world titlists were Trevor Brazile on the heading side with $163,358 on the year, and Finals freshman heeler Jade Corkill with $166,673. Trevor won his sixth world all-around championship in 2008, and became this sport's first-ever $3 million man. Ty's the only guy ever to win a seventh world all-around crown. Probably not for long, though, with Trevor on the loose.
Matt and Randon were all smiles when the flag dropped on their last steer and the 2008 world championship. "It came down to making sure we made a good run tonight," Matt said simply. "When we roped, Trevor was actually winning the world. We needed to maintain our place in the average, which basically meant a smooth run. In 2006, Walt and I had to be 4.2 on our last one for me to win the world. I was way more nervous having to just catch (he and Randon had 9 flat to hold on to fourth in the average) than having to be 4.2. The average was on my mind from about round three on. But you don't back off the go-rounds. There's too much money in that."
Looking back, both described their season as "steady." "We won good all year," Adams said. "We won first on the first steer we ran in 2008 (in the first round at Odessa, Texas) and it was steady all year. There were only three or four weeks in 2008 when we didn't win anything."
Even the eventual world champs experienced a cold snap last summer. "We had a great year; really no ups and downs, except for the Fourth of July," said Sherwood, who lives in Pima, Ariz., with his beautiful wife, Kim, and seven kids, Megan, 15; Cody, 14; Logan, 11; Jessica, 8; Porter, 7; and twins, Aubrie and Ashlie, 4. "In Prescott, Arizona, I was so homesick and had roped so bad. I missed the best steer in the first round at Greeley (Colo.), Cody (Wyo.), Window Rock and Prescott (Ariz.). I sat in the rodeo secretary's office in Prescott and sulked. It was extremely depressing, and I was in the depths of despair. Everybody else went and ate, but I just sat there. I had roped so poorly that week.
"It's amazing how fast your confidence can get shaken. We'd just won second at Reno, which is a huge rodeo. We were at a point where if we had a good Fourth we could get the Finals made early. We were drawing great, but I was missing. Doing that badly makes you homesick. The last day of the Fourth of July run-July 5th-things turned back around. We won the first round and the average at Mollala (Ore.), then placed at St. Paul. We chartered to Oakley (Utah) and won it. We hadn't won $800 on the busiest Fourth of my life, and then won $11,000 on the last day. That was one great day."
Even on those rare days when Sherwood was feeling like the weakest link, Adams stayed strong. "It's not an emotional roller coaster with Randon," Matt said. "I miss five steers for $10,000, and he says, 'Let's go eat.' He's always in a good mood. Randon's the ultimate in a partner you could ever want. I'll be in the depths of despair, and he'll say, 'Come on pard, let's go eat.'
"I love Randon Adams. He's been the best partner a guy can have, bar none, and it's been a great year. He never said one negative thing all year long."
Adams appeared to be at complete ease throughout the week at the Finals. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he slept in his own bed every night. Logandale, Nev. is just an hour north of the Thomas & Mack, between Vegas and Mesquite. And it no doubt had everything to do with the man over on his left.
"Matt's a great guy, and we're good friends," stated the newly crowned world champion heeler. "We'll always be good friends. We have the same mentality. We like to go for first every time. And no matter what happened on any one steer, we both knew we were trying to do our best. When I wasn't roping that good this year, Matt told me to keep my head up. He's been a great partner to travel with and talk to. We had fun this year.
"Matt and I started roping in August of last year (2007), and neither of us made the Finals. We were just barely out (Sherwood finished 2007 ranked 17th in the world among headers, and Adams was 22nd among heelers). We knew we could do it, but we didn't rope very well together. We decided to stick it out, because we felt we roped good enough to get it done."
Sherwood, who said he and Adams entered 69 rodeos before the NFR (which is one short of team ropers' 70-rodeo limit) rode his 2006 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/American Quarter Horse Association Head Horse of the Year Nickolas on nine of their 10 steers at NFR '08. Nick, now 14, is Matt's go-to guy when the going gets tough. "Nick worked great all year," said Sherwood, who paid $600 for Nick as a yearling and made him himself. "We won the first round at the first rodeo of the year (Odessa) on him, and placed on the last steer of the year here at the Finals. He's just an awesome horse to ride."
Sherwood did bum a ride aboard Shain Sproul's gray horse in round nine, and they were 3.7 for the victory lap. "We'd roped ourselves into a horrible situation," Sherwood explained. "We needed a round win to keep our chances alive. Handsome was the do-or-die horse. I felt like I had a lot better chance of a no time on him, but a lot better chance of winning the round because he's so strong and finishes so good. That run put us in a whole different situation. It put us in the lead, so all we needed to do was maintain. That run made it to where Trevor couldn't beat me just by winning the average." (If that gray horse looked familiar or the name Handsome rings a bell, that's Chad Masters' old horse. Chad sold him to Wade Wheatley, who later sold him to Sproul.)
The Adams family is renowned for their horses. They raise, train and sell cutting and roping horses under the Western States Ranches Performance Horses banner. Randon's up at 6:30 every morning, and in the saddle by 7:15 a.m. Some of their current horse headliners include Destiny, the bay mare Stran Smith bought from them in 2007 and won the world on in 2008 (if she looks familiar, by the way, it's because three-time NFR tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa, who junior rodeoed with Randon, used to ride her). Cesar de la Cruz's sorrel ace Cimarron was Randon's backup horse before Cesar bought him.
And then there's Diesel, Randon's 10-year-old sorrel PRCA/AQHA Heel Horse of the Year the last three years running (his registered name is Baileys Cooper Doc). Randon bought Diesel when he was 5 and still pretty green. "Diesel's the best thing that ever happened to me," Adams said. "He's a huge athlete. He can really run and stop. He's a big part of my success. He's just awesome."
In 2009, Sherwood will head for 2008 PRCA Rookie Heeler of the Year Rhen Richard. I'm sure no one but Rhen's mom and me noticed that the NFR announcer who called him to center arena of the Thomas & Mack for his rookie buckle presentation called him Richard Rhen. I haven't even met Rhen, and I cringed. Sorry, kid. But I bet that announcer won't make the same mistake again on opening night in 2009.
Adams will ring in the new year with JoJo LeMond. And like so many of our other industry stars, including Barnes, Skelton and Kory Koontz, Randon's right thumb is a little shorter than the one on his left hand. "I cut my thumb off at a jackpot in Craig, Colorado when I was 13," Randon remembers. "When I pulled my glove off, my thumb was in it. They sewed it back on in Denver." It's about a thumbnail shorter than the other one, rows of railroad-track scars surround his hand and the dexterity on his roping hand is compromised. But Adams isn't about to complain.
"I'm really excited," said Adams, who's closing in on 100 trophy saddles and whose long list of titles includes the 1996 National Little Britches Rodeo Association breakaway and ribbon roping championships; the 1999 National High School Rodeo Association team roping title; and the 2000 NHSRA all-around championship (Randon roped calves, team roped, bulldogged and cut in high school). "This has been so intense. Last night (round nine) lit a fire under me when we roped that steer in 3.7. And tonight (round 10; December 13), when we stopped the clock with two feet and no barrier, we knew we won it. We needed to stop the clock clean today. I'm thrilled."
Matt's a big-time family man. Randon and his fiancée, Audrey Fuller, haven't started that chapter of their lives just yet. But that same family-first foundation is there to build on. In fact, Randon rang me up 24 hours after Sunday morning's World Champions Brunch to tell me one more time how much his family means to him.
"I haven't said enough about my mom and dad (Wes and Elizabeth)," he told me Monday night. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am. My dad lives for us, and works so hard for us to have a great life and to be able to do what we want in life. I think he was more stressed than me all week. My mom is the mellow one. She holds us all together. We couldn't do it without both of them.
"This is a big family deal. I have four brothers-Austin, (2006 NFR header) Jay's real name is Jason, Dustin and Weston. We also have a sister, Brittany, and like Audrey, she helped me drive a lot this year. They all rope. Dustin's a big-time cutter. Weston runs our company in Utah. Austin ropes and cuts. Jay's been working with Weston up in Utah, and I think he's going to rodeo again in 2009. We're a very close family. And the only reason I'm where I am today is because of my family."