OKLAHOMA CITY – Jared Allen has to sit out the Carolina Panthers’ NFC Championship Game on Sunday evening because of a fractured foot, but his prized World Champion Bull contender Air Time will be locked and loaded for his 2016 season debut earlier in the day.
Air Time is set for his first out during Sunday’s championship round at the Express Employment Professionals Invitational, and stock contractor Matt Scharping is ready to turn the page on a “sickening” ending to the 2015 season.
Just as Allen revealed in December, Air Time’s collapse on the final day of the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals left Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team feeling the effects of a tough defeat.
“You put everything into, and I am probably a little extreme with the passion for what we do,” Scharping said. “I eat, sleep and breathe for those animals and to feel like I let him down – that hurt. Nothing against anyone else or any animal. It hurt because I felt like, did I let him down? Could I have done something so he could have had that title?
“It wasn’t like a couple of hours after. That was probably one of the toughest things I had to deal with. Being in the bull business is very humbling no matter what, but that deal was really tough.”
Air Time had come into the championship round leading the World Champion Bull race following a dominant 47-point out against 2010 World Champion Renato Nunes in his first out of the Finals.
However, Ryan Dirteater took a long time in the bucking chutes and had a hard time preparing for a clean out with Air Time. The end result was a 4.21-second buckoff, but a sub-part out for Air Time.
The bull was marked only 42.5 points and he finished the Finals third in the championship race behind SweetPro’s Long John and Bruiser.
Both Long John and Bruiser are slated to compete in the championship round this weekend.
Still, just as Ron Rivera cannot control what the Panthers do on Sunday, all Scharping could do was try and put Air Time in the best possible situation to succeed at the Finals last year, and – for the most part – Scharping did just that.
The team’s plan to limit Air Time’s outs (10 total) throughout the course of the 2015 season had Air Time in prime shape for the Finals.
“I want the bull to succeed, so it is no different than football,” Scharping said. “The coach can only do what he can do and the players have to do their deal. A coach puts his player in the best position to succeed and that is the same thing I do with him.”
As any good football coach does, Scharping did take some time to review the game footage from the Finals and take a look at how things played out.
The one thing Scharping wants to change in 2016 with Air Time is making sure the bovine superstar gets his hocks treated more frequently. Last year, Scharping had Air Time’s hocks worked on one occasion, but now he thinks because of Air Time’s fierce and ferocious bucking style that Air Time may need some therapy on a more frequent basis.
“The thing with the Finals, and something I kick myself about, is he was in such great shape and I was so happy with everything that was there and he showed it the first out,” Scharping said. “But he got so sore before the second out and there are only certain things I can do when I was there. Hindsight being 20/20, we have only drained and injected his hocks once a year. This year, my plan is to probably do it three times so that is not an issue. To me that was the major issue. When he reared out of there and he kind of stalled there in the air, it was, ‘Man, my legs hurt and I can’t push up like I want to.’
“Now if he would have gotten out of there a little quicker in the chutes, maybe it would have been better. It took longer than I would like to see in the chutes and that created a problem, but hey, Long John was the better bull and he won it fair and square.”
Air Time went 10-0 last year and is 18-1 on the BFTS in his career. He averages a shade under 45 points per out (44.99) and many riders believe that when he gets out of the chute cleanly he is one of the rankest bulls on tour.
Kasey Hayes has fallen victim to Air Time twice in his career, including Air Time’s career-best 47.5-point out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2014.
“I know when I got on him in Tulsa he was (rank) and the problem was I couldn’t get around to the left,” Hayes said. “Then the next time, it was probably good I didn’t make it around any farther because I would have hit his head pretty hard. He was throwing down a bit. He is a good bull. Air Time is snappy. He is a shorter bull with a wider back.”
The unpredictability and wildness of Air Time leads to a large part of his success, but it also can end up being costly.
“Air Time’s calling is he is dirty rank,” Scharping said. “He throws everything he can, but sometimes that causes him to do something stupid. I also know my bull and how good he can be. I still think he is the rankest bull going.”
Scharping is calling Air Time’s strategy this year week-to-week, but he expects Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team to try and limit Air Time to roughly one out per month in the first half of the year outside of back-to-back weeks with Iron Cowboy and Phoenix Invitational.
“It will just really depend on him,” Scharping said. “Granted, this is the first half of the year. Unless the only variable on that is Arlington and Phoenix because that is where Jared lives. That would be the only reason we would buck him in that capacity. Other than that, it would be the same plan. Keep him fresh unless he really has a bad day and we feel we need to eliminate that score with a better score.”
What would be even better is if Allen is watching Air Time in Phoenix with a brand new Super Bowl ring on his finger.
Allen has never played in the Super Bowl during his 12 NFL seasons, while Air Time has yet to win the World Champion Bull title in his first two BFTS years.
“Jared is so close and he has a little injury going there and hopefully everything works out where he is ok and good to go (after this week),” Scharping said. “That would be ideal. He is going to get his before Air Time is going to get his.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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