Then, the worst
thing that could happen in that tight corner happens. Collier bucks off over
his hand and is hung up. Suspended by his hand, he is being jerked up and down
with such tremendous force you wonder that his arm doesn't come loose at the
shoulder. Somehow Coffee skirts the bull's horns and throws himself across its
back. He grabs Collier's wrist with his left hand and, with his other hand,
grabs the tail of Collier's bull rope. Somehow, faster than you can see, he
unwraps the cowboy's hand. The cowboy falls free. But Coffee, who must now lead
the bull away from Collier, falls from its back slightly off balance and the
bull, coming around in his spin, gives Coffee a terrific thump in the ribs with
the flat of its horn. Coffee keeps his balance and, with the help of J.G., they
lure the bull back into the middle of the arena where the pickup men, on
horseback, can run it out the gate.
But Coffee is
hurt, and he needs a second to collect himself. Endsley sees this and goes into
a spiel about what a terrific performance they've just seen by the premier
bullfighter in rodeo. He ends by saying: "Leon, take a bow." Coffee is
hurting too much to take a bow, though. Instead, he doffs his hat to the
applauding crowd and turns a painful grimace into a smile.
For the grand
finale, they turn out a riderless bull for Coffee to play with. Coffee cuts a
few didoes with it, but the bull won't cooperate. It wants out of the arena,
and it's staying along the fence. Coffee wants to jump over the bull's horns,
but the bull won't be maneuvered into a position that gives him a clear
hell," he says, and signals to Crouch, who nods and leans over slightly,
the top of his hat six feet from the ground. Coffee makes a few half circles
and then runs at his clown colleague—and jumps straight over him, kicking off
J.G.'s derby with his left foot as he flies by. Not bad, considering all that
loose dirt and a possible broken rib.
What with the
well-wishers and the autograph seekers, it takes us an hour to get out of the
arena. Finally we are back in Coffee's motel room, and he sinks down on the
side of his bed. He is so weary that it takes him a minute to kick off his
baseball spikes and another minute just to remove his socks. When he gets his
shirt and jersey off I see the huge welt on his ribs that the bull has given
him as a going-away present. But Coffee's felt worse than this. He has broken
his neck, his back, both collarbones, both wrists, one leg, one foot and half
of his ribs. He has also suffered several penetrating horn wounds. And then
there's his crooked grin, compliments of a bull at the Dallas rodeo that tried
to drive his face from the right side to the left side with its horn. As a
result, the right side of his face is mostly plastic and wire. They carried
Coffee out of the arena unconscious that time, but within minutes he was back
on the job.
Taking his makeup
off, he says, "Bad bull tonight. Bad bulls." Then he shows me that
lopsided grin and says, "But, hey, man, they all bad."
So I finally have
to ask him the question that I already know the answer to, but you don't.
slightly. "Because the money's good."
It's a reasonable
answer, because Coffee is making about $80,000 a year. But it's not the