Prior to 1995, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s team roping world title was designed to only go to one cowboy. The top-earning roper—header or heeler—was given the world champion buckle. Once a year-end finals was instituted in 1959, the top 15 ropers in the world qualified—regardless of what end they roped—then invited their partners.
As a result, between 1929 and 1994, 50 team roping world titles were awarded to only one person. In that same era, there were 15 times when “co-champions” for the world title were named. In every case, it was a header and a heeler who remained partners the entire year and had the exact same earnings after the NFR. (Of course, three of those years 1976-1978, the NFR average champions were named world champions.) Interestingly, from 1984-1994, only twice (1990, Allen Bach and 1993, Bobby Hurley) did the award not end in a tie.
Despite being so many co-champions, the real impetus to the PRCA rule change was a push from the team ropers to have the same amount of prize money for headers and heelers as the rest of the rodeo events. The first step, quite obviously, was to have the top 15 heelers and top 15 headers qualified and named world champions separately. But the momentum to end the invite system began when people were literally buying invites. Ropers were getting $25,000 in cash in shoeboxes to extend their invitations to someone who wanted to rope in Las Vegas but didn’t qualify.
“There were a few guys who bought their way into the National Finals,” said Mike Beers, who “tied” for the world title in 1984 with his header Dee Pickett and was the team roping representative on the PRCA contestant executive council at the time. “We put rules in that you had to win so much money to be invited, but you were still an invited guest. To get by that, we had to make the team roping a more standard event where the top 15 headers and top 15 heelers had to rope together. That eventually helped us get to equal money because we had two world champions: a header and a heeler.”
Beers found an ally in contestant executive council chair and PRCA Board of Directors representative Rod Lyman. Together, they took the first step toward equal money when the PRCA board made the rule change in the fall of 1994 that the top 15 headers and the top 15 heelers would qualify for the Finals, effective in 1995.
In an interesting sidebar, previous to 1995, the world champion buckles read, “World Champion Team Roper.” Today, they read either “World Champion Header” or “World Champion Heeler.”