The Battle of Steep Hill, 1859

We had rigged up the bicycles with old bedding, twine, saddles. We even named them—Red Thunder, Papa Wheelie—and kept them in the stables where the real cavalry lived prior to that winter. We intended to ride down Steep Hill toward Leaky Lake and surprise the enemy where they camped.

“Surrender,” our women encouraged. “They look just like bicycles.”

Our real horses were dead. “Nonsense, women,” we replied.

“The enemy is bigger, stronger, and more handsome. You cannot win.”

“But our spirit,” we said, “the enemy can never account for our spirit.”

“Son of a mother,” our women said.

The enemy outnumbered us by the thousands. They had better artillery, more experienced warriors, and a cavalry their soldiers would not have to peddle into battle. But one thing they had not—they had not our spirit.

“They have not our spirit!” Captain Hastings reminded us each morning from atop his steed, Rolling Hurricane. He wasn’t really a Captain. All the Captains and Lieutenants were dead. He just had more bullets leftover than the rest of us so we let him be Captain. Many of us didn’t have bullets. We were told to aim our moldy weapons at the enemy and imitate gunfire as we peddled by them. “They have cleaner uniforms, real horses, more bullets. But they have not our spirit!”

Our spirit was strong and our calves were toned. We saddled up at dawn and coasted down Steep Hill a little faster than we hoped. We had never practiced on the actual hill. It was way too steep and dangerous. Some of us without brakes were doing 40 mph by the time we hit the enemy’s camp, ending up in Leaky Lake without firing a shot. Those of us without bullets riddled the enemy with imaginary gunfire—"M-rat-at-at-at-at!" We lofted imaginary bombs—"Kaplowey!"—as we peddled our faux horses in circles. When the enemy finished laughing—thousands of troops howling until their bellies ached—they issued us the beating of our lives. It was a comprehensive beating, as sound and unforgettable as any in history.

Our spirit wavered slightly.

Then they woke the soldiers who missed our first attack. They made us go back up the hill and attack them again, this time while our women watched. “Again!” they cried, and we would walk our “horses” up Steep Hill for another go, and they would laugh and hoot and smack our faces. When they tired of that, they made us watch as they disemboweled Captain Hastings for refusing to pledge allegiance to their cause. After that, we nearly fell over one another bowing and pledging allegiance. We even sang mean folk songs about ourselves and rode around their campfire to entertain them while they drank our wine and danced with our women.

It just wasn’t our day.

- - -

Gator Fever, 2004

Our opponent, the Knights, had a 37-game winning streak and three players recruited by Division I colleges. What they didn’t have was a coach who had drunkenly driven his car into a Dairy Queen the night before—with two underage cheerleaders in the backseat.

Despite that, Coach Dixon still managed to write a pep talk for us from his jail cell. Assistant coach Humphrey read it to us in the locker room before the game.

“Gators, regardless of tonight’s outcome—win, lose, or draw—I’ll still be…” Coach Dixon wrote, “fucked.”

The Knights’ starting five were a combined 38 inches taller than our starting five, and they averaged 30 points more a game. Still, no one could devise a statistic that could accurately describe what Coach Dixon meant to us. He taught us the game of basketball. He purchased us beer. He organized the annual Gator Bowl-a-Thon and made our parents and faculty believe the proceeds were for sending us to basketball camp, when in fact they were for the rented bus we rode to Myrtle Beach for Spring Break. Our greatest memories of high school came from living on that bus for two weeks while Coach Dixon shagged and drank his way through each and every cent of the Bowl-a-Thon funds.

We came at the Knights with everything we had. By halftime we were losing by 49. By the fourth quarter, their third-string players were wowing our fans with Globetrotter-style tricks. They even put in their severely autistic team manager, who had never played in a game before, and he proceeded to rain down three-pointer after three-pointer.

Throughout the game, the Knights taunted us with clever and accurate insults, which forced us to examine the mockery we were making of ourselves and our parents, not to mention the game of basketball. And we wept. The referees warned us to stop weeping, but that just made our weeping louder and more pronounced. A video of us with tears streaming down our faces down onto our short shorts ended up on SportsCenter during a report about the Knight’s team manager’s inspiring story.

Afterward, our fans thanked the Knights for giving us such a thorough drubbing. Then their players took our girlfriends out for pizza. Later we heard they had sex with them.

It just wasn’t our day.