Man vs. bull vs. buzzer

He wasn't getting up, but who could blame him? In a matter of seconds, what should have been just another round at the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series Sacramento Invitational instead brought the entire event to a screeching halt.

The ride, part of the man vs. bull spectacle held at Sleep Train Arena on February 1, seemed doomed from the start. From the buzzer, it took less than a second for the bull to throw his rider, turn a full 180 degrees and run down one of the nearby gate men. The rider tried to make a run for it up and over the fence, but the bull was faster and stronger and slammed him once and then twice against the metal railings of the pit.

The massive video screens that hung in the arena looped the flinching scene over a few times just for good taste. Yes, the gate man's head definitely seemed to take the brunt of the blows. Both were direct hits; the gate man definitely was down.

Members of the packed arena murmured and mumbled as more riders, coordinators and EMTs bearing a stretcher ran out to the fallen figure. But it only took a matter of minutes before he was back on his feet and slowly making his way out of the public eye, all to an applauding audience.

In those few minutes I was struck by how far we have progressed this spectator sport since the Roman Empire, when it also was custom to pit man against animal in an arena for the viewing pleasure of the public.

With a list of sponsers longer than the backers for Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign, the PBR series travels the globe and features the world’s toughest men attempting to hang on to primo bulls for eight seconds at a time.

And yes, while far more humane and civilized these days, for both the people and the animals, bull riding serves the same purpose it did thousands of years ago: entertainment, with a slight chance of danger and blood.

And that's how we like it, a vicarious audience if there ever was one.

The PBR event continued on with a grand total of 35 attempts made to ride several different bulls—some of them successful, others, not so much.

Leaving, I couldn't help but wonder what goes through the mind of a bull rider as he sits atop some 1,700-pound horned and pissed-off animal, right before he is jettisoned out into the bright arena.

Is it fear? Is it confidence? Is it the prize money? Or something else?

I can't honestly say—and with no desire to be in that position myself—a tip of the hat to these entertainers of the gladiator variety.