NEW YORK — A colored bull terrier named Rufus used his head Tuesday night to become America's top dog.
The tan-and-white mix won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club, beating out six strong contenders and drawing a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Rufus' selling point? His head — perfectly shaped like an egg.
"The classic profile of a colored bull terrier," judge James Reynolds said.
Rufus was the first dog in his breed to win at the nation's most prestigious show. Handler Kathy Kirk said she was "ready to pass out" from the pressure, but her nearly 6-year-old dog that she playfully calls "Puppyhead" seemed to take it all in stride.
He stacked in style — holding his pose for the judge — and wagged his tail when he won. Later, he'll surely "hucklebuck" — that's how Kirk describes how he jumps up and bangs his behind into a door.
At a show that drew 2,622 entries in 165 breeds and varieties, Rufus really earned this victory. He beat out a favorite Norfolk terrier named Coco and a Dandie Dinmont co-owned by Bill Cosby just to reach the final ring.
When it got down to Best in Show, Rufus was picked over a popular golden retriever, a Rottweiler handled by a former Florida State linebacker, a prize pug and a spirited Dalmatian.
An old English sheepdog and a Scottish deerhound also made it to the last seven.
Terriers have dominated in 130 years of Westminster, now winning 44 of 99 times that Best in Show has been presented. But usually it's fancier kinds, such as the wire fox, that take home the silver bowl.
This time, the dog registered as champion Rocky Top's Sundance Kid won the prize for owner Barbara and Tom Bishop of Holmel, N.J. It was his 32nd overall Best in Show victory, including a win at NBC's National Dog Show last November and, by any standard, his biggest.
"I'm kind of numb," Barbara Bishop said. "This is his last show. It's amazing."
A day earlier, Kirk celebrated his upset win in the terrier group by going shopping. And her new outfit, looking like a black tux, proved lucky.
"Armani was good to me tonight," she said.
Rufus left the Garden around midnight. He'll certainly be dog tired by Wednesday night.
He had about a dozen TV appearances set for Wednesday, starting at 6:45 a.m. Plus there was the annual Dog Fanciers luncheon at the famed restaurant Sardi's, where he'll get a meal of chopped sirloin.
This show was full of newcomers. Of the seven breeds to reach the Best in Show ring, only the old English sheepdog and pug had won it all.
Boomer the Dalmatian made a strong bid to take home the title. The black-and-white special was a crowd favorite on Monday night in the nonsporting group and again while facing Rufus.
"I thought the Dalmatian was perfect," Kirk said.
No Rottweiler had ever won the working group until owner-breeder-handler Keith Carter guided Shaka to victory Monday night on the green carpet.
Carter is accustomed to winning on another green field. He played with Deion Sanders for coach Bobby Bowden's Seminoles in the late 1980s, won four bowl games and carried on a fierce rivalry with Miami.
"This is bigger than the 'Noles-'Canes," he said after his early win. "This is very different than football, but it really gets your competitive juices going."
At 6-foot-3 with a shaved head, diamond earring and beautifully tailored suit, Carter had a commanding presence in the ring. He had powerful gait — like his dog — and pumped his fist after victory.
"I never thought I'd be standing here," he said.
Dermot the pug won the toy group at his final event. He traveled about 50,000 miles last year by motor home, and had 65 overall Best in Show wins.
But when it came time for Reynolds to check him, he backed off on the judging table.
Margot the Scottish Deerhound took the hound group, Smokin' the old English sheepdog won the herding group and Andy the golden retriever was the top sporting dog.
Goldens are the second-most popular breed in America, yet have always been shut out at Westminster.