JOHN L. PITTS: The King’s speech is the best




There are all kinds of pregame speeches, but the best was written more than 400 years ago.

King Henry V was a heavy underdog when he led the British against the French in 1415 in what became known as the Battle of Agincourt.

By some estimates, the British foot soldiers were outnumbered 10 to 1. “Fearful odds,” it was said, centuries before there was a Las Vegas to set the line.

But any modern football coach would appreciate how the British changed the playbook to their advantage.

There were perhaps 7,000 longbow men in the British ranks, and they were that era’s spread offense to France’s battlefield version of “three yards and a cloud of dust.”

Henry V, who at age 29 might once have been the royal version of Lane Kiffin but grew out of it, sent his men into battle that day with a rousing speech.

Two hundred years later, William Shakespeare imagined it as, above all, an appeal to personal pride and duty to one’s teammate.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” Henry says, later adding, “All things are ready if our minds be so.”

The actor Tom Hiddleston, in a recent interview, called it “the best locker-room speech in the history of dramatic literature.” Every movie you’ve seen where one person rallies a group, from “Independence Day” to “Any Given Sunday” to “Animal House,” owes that Henry V speech a debt.

The battle took place on Oct. 25, 1415 on what is still known as Saint Crispin’s Day, even though Crispin is no longer a saint (long story).

It was a blowout, a Villanova-beats-Georgetown level upset. By some estimates, as many as 11,000 French were killed against perhaps 100 Englishmen.

Significantly, Shakespeare’s Henry V did not spike the rhetorical football to celebrate: “Take it, God, for it is none but thine.”

Random thoughts

• The NCAA’s targeting rule is the Obamacare of college football. Intended to address the real problem of head injuries, it’s way too complicated and only makes things worse.

Time to repeal it.

• should have a “Name Your Own Score” contest for the Idaho-Ole Miss game.

John L. Pitts ( is sports editor of the Journal.

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  • clevelandgator

    Mr. Pitts “Random Thoughts” are the best part of any articles.