Michael Brinkerhoff nearly died eight years ago when a bristling bovine named Boss Hog impaled the soft flesh underneath his chin during an eight-second bull ride at the spring rodeo in Payson.
"Mike got thrown off the bull and his hand was caught," said his wife, Shona, who watched the massive, white-faced beast thrash her husband to near death. "The bull caught him with the horns. It was frustrated and threw its head back. The bull slammed his head to the ground and Mike went under. The bull still couldn't get him off, so then he pile-drived him all over the ring."
Flailing its head, trying to free the weight of Mike's body, the bull sliced its horn upward through Brinkerhoff's mouth, imploding his sinus cavity and leaving his tongue dangling by a few fibers of flesh.
"I was awake the whole time," Mike said. "I didn't think I was hurt that bad. But I knew my chin was busted up."
With one last snap of its head, Boss Hog tossed Brinkerhoff like a rag doll, tearing an 8-inch gash down his throat.
"It was a freak accident," Mike, now 32 said. "I fell off the wrong way, and he got me just right."
"It seemed like forever," Shona added. "I'm in the stands wondering, ‘When are they getting him off there?'"
After a dozen cowboys took control of Boss Hog, Shona remembered seeing her husband stagger a few steps, and collapse.
"His rodeo partner got me out of the stands to say goodbye. They thought he was going to die," Shona said. "There was blood all over the place. His neck was butterflyed. Right underneath the jawbone was open. You could see everything in him."
Emergency personnel flew Mike to the Valley where surgeons reattached his tongue, and created a stoma in his crushed throat for a tracheal breathing tube.
"He almost died," Shona said. "He punctured the jugular vein. He cracked his voice box. They had to reconstruct the sinus cavity. Every doctor told me he should not be alive. The bull missed three vital organs."
Mike couldn't talk for weeks.
"He would whisper and he would write notes," Shona said.
After two weeks in the hospital Mike, the ever-tough cowboy, checked himself out, removed the tracheal tube and played in his own benefit softball tournament.
Mike said his wounds have totally healed, but his passion for the sport still sizzles.
"About a year after the accident, I wanted to start riding bulls again," Mike said. "I can't watch rodeos anymore because it makes me want to get back out there. It's all I did when I was younger, and it's hard to be away from it."
Mike and Shona now have three children and operate a successful real estate development company in the Valley.
"I've been blessed," Mike said. "The accident completely changed my life. I think it's God's way of waking me up and showing me what's important in life."
As for Boss Hog, Lacey Mercer of RC Mercer Livestock & Rodeo, said the bull died about five years ago.
"He was old at the time (of the accident)," Mercer said. "He had a long career."
The Brinkerhoffs seek photographs and videos taken of Mike's accident at the May 1997 Payson rodeo. To share your memories with the Brinkerhoffs, contact Shona at (480) 987-8287.