Seven soldiers sit along the muddy trench walls of Ypres, staring at a man standing before them. The muffled snaps of gunfire and the occasional whoomps of artillery are going off in the background.
“Why should you climb over that wall and charge the Germans?” asked Keith Primeau, undeniable force and captain of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League. "I’ll tell you why, and listen up, because I’m about to land some knowledge on you. Ready? OK, here it is. Guts beat skill, every single time.
“Sure, the Germans have rifles, machine guns, and, apparently, airplanes dropping poisonous gas. But you have guts. Sure, they might shoot better than you, they might be more skilled in the operation of their weapons. But you have guts. Believe me when I tell you this: Those Germans would give up all their tanks and zeppelins if they could have your guts. They’d make the trade in a second. And it would be a terrible trade. Why? That’s right. Guts beat skill, every single time.
“Bathscombe, I don’t want to single you out, but stand up for a second. Yeah, not all the way up, you don’t want the Germans to shoot you in the head. Bathscombe, I’m sure this will not come as a surprise to you, but you look terrible. Your skin is yellow, your eyes are yellow, and you’ve got that big blue bruise on your neck. Nobody trusts you, but I trust you. That’s right, because right in there you have guts. No, lower than that, Bathscombe. Yes, right there, you are full of guts.
“Let me tell you a story about my little Finnish friend, Sami Kapanen. Two years ago, in the playoffs, Sami gets a flying elbow to the head from Darcy Tucker of the Maple Leafs. Darcy Tucker is such a bastard that he should be over there with the Germans. I know I shouldn’t say that, but I can’t help myself. Anyway, Sami gets his skull dented and he is out there flat on the ice and he doesn’t know his name, doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t know the Finnish language. All he remembers is one thing, that he is a Philadelphia Flyer. Wait a sec, I’m getting a little teary here. OK, so, little Sami gets up, struggles to his feet, and he skates. I mean, all he can see is black, all he can smell is burning butter, and he is skating. Meanwhile, we win the game and kick the Leafs out of the playoffs. But the most important thing is that Sami is skating, maybe not in the right direction, maybe while throwing up, but he was still skating. Because Sami has guts.
“Bathscombe, I’m telling you, I see a little of Sami in you. I see a little Sami Kapanen in every one of you here. You guys are not the type to just sit here in a trench for four years; you are the type of guys who stand up, wipe some of that mud off your butts, and get those Germans out of Belgium. Are you with me?
“All right, BEF on three. One … Two … Three … British Expeditionary Force! Go get ’em, boys. Show those Germans what guts are all about.
(Two minutes pass.)
“OK, the four of you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing at all.
“Hey, don’t be sorry about Bathscombe. He’s not sorry, believe me. He went out doing what he wanted to do. I realize he didn’t make it to the German line, but that’s not what guts are about. I might not be popular for saying that, but they’re not.
“I still contend that guts beat skill, every single time. Maybe it would make it clearer if I added ‘in the long run.’
“Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I can barely skate, and yet I am the captain of the greatest hockey team in the NHL. I’m not kidding. Physically, it is nearly impossible for me to skate. I’m top-heavy, I’ve got skinny legs, my equilibrium is like a snow globe, and my ankles are like glass swans. And yet I do skate. Why? Because guts are better than miracles.
“Believe me, guys, I am just like you. Sometimes I wake up and I hear that little voice inside me. The little voice that says you can’t put that puck in the net or you have the motor skills of a dead cricket or maybe you shouldn’t rub your gloves in other men’s faces. And do you know what I do? I ball up that little voice and I swallow it. It might not be healthy, but health has nothing to do with guts.
“You know what I’m trying to say? That’s right, Chesterton, health has nothing to do with Germans, either. Believe me, they are over there in their trenches and they are shaken. They were completely unprepared for you to run across that field. I mean unprepared mentally, Montgomery. And you know what they’re not expecting? For you to do it again.
“I’m not kidding. They are over there with their teeth chattering. They are seriously unsettled. Your guts are that much superior to their skill. That’s not even a question.
“Chesterton, you’re ready to run across that field again? See that? That’s guts. Who wants to charge with Chesterton? Terrific. I’ll tell you what, guys. By doing this, by running across that field, you’ve already beaten those Germans. You’ve already won.
“OK, on three, and don’t forget to zigzag this time. One … Two … Three … British Expeditionary Force!
(Two more minutes pass.)
“OK, Willington, hold your chin up. Let me tell you this: There are many kinds of victories. Today was just one of those different kinds of victories.”