Virginia Tech fell just short of giving Frank Beamer a Hollywood ending to his final home game Saturday, but on this day, the score didn’t seem to matter.
Saturday was an emotional one for all 65,632 fans that came to give the legendary Hokies’ coach their gratitude and appreciation for the past 29 years. It started well before kickoff as the Carroll County native took part in the Hokie Walk one last time, fighting back tears as he led the team past thousands of appreciative fans. It continued just before kickoff as one side of the stadium chanted “Thank you” and the other side responded with “Beamer.”
Even Metallica, the heavy metal band famous for the “Enter Sandman” song the Hokies enter the field to, sent a tribute to Beamer that was aired on the HokieVision scoreboard before the contest with 17th-ranked North Carolina.
“I am thankful that I had such appreciation from the fans today rather than them wanting to run you out of town,” Beamer said in his postgame press conference with the media.
And for a while, it seemed if the Football Gods were going to pay their tributes to one of the winningest coaches in college football history. Trailing 24-10 with just three minutes left, the Hokies stayed alive on Michael Brewer’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Bucky Hodges.
And then the unthinkable happened. Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy forced a fumble the Hokies recovered at midfield, setting up another Brewer touchdown pass, this time to Isaiah Ford, tying the game and sending the HokieNation into a frenzy. The Hokies would go on to fall 30-27 in overtime to the Tar Heels, but not before playing their hearts out for their beloved coach.
“I saw a lot of the signs today and I appreciate it, but I need a sign down here that says greatest fans ever,” Beamer said, addressing the crowd from the field following the game. “Our players never quit playing. They played hard and North Carolina has a good football team. We’ve got one more chance next week and we need the greatest fans ever out there. Thank you!”
And despite the loss and emotion of a second-straight home overtime defeat, Beamer rode out of Lane Stadium for the final time in style. Lifted high on the shoulders of players J.C. Coleman and Donavan Riley, Beamer was carried off the field with the entire team behind him.
“Well, I didn’t think it was very smart. I had J.C. there under me, the smallest guy on the football team. I questioned their judgment at that point,” Beamer joked in the press conference. “But I love the guys. I told them before we came up here today, and I really mean this, I’ve had a lot of great players and I think this team has been the best overall from the character, from not hardly having any of them in my office talking about a problem, it’s just been a good group of guys. They do things the right way, they want to win, they work hard to win, some things haven’t happened as well as we would have liked, but I’ve never known them not to play hard. That is all you can ask. Life is like that. Give it your best shot and get ready to come back. That is what we need to do right now. We gave it our best shot today and we have to come back next week.”
Beamer tried his best to deflect questions about the emotion of the game in the press conference, instead turning his attention to in-state rival Virginia. After all, the 5-6 Hokies still need to win this Saturday in Charlottesville to extend its national-leading bowl streak to 23 straight seasons.
“I am thinking about Virginia and let’s go in that direction and not get sidetracked here,” Beamer said. “This is (my) last game here in Lane Stadium, and even though that makes you sad, it really makes you think about the 29 years that I have been able to coach and three other years I played here at Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech has been great to me. I’ve never had a bad athletic director, never had a bad president, I’ve been a lucky guy.”
A 1965 Hillsville High School graduate, Beamer said he had similar thoughts on entering the stadium for the last time. Although it was emotional, he had a duty to keep himself and his team focused on the task at hand.
“North Carolina, honest to goodness, if they weren’t so good I wouldn’t have worried so much about them and maybe had a little more time to think about the moment, but I knew we were going to have to play a great game to have a chance to beat those guys. I’ll be honest with you, my mind was going in that direction,” Beamer said. “I appreciate everything, but when your mind gets to going all over the place you forget you have to go play well against North Carolina. I didn’t want our players to do that and I didn’t want our players’ minds to get off what the goal was. I know what my mind was on. That was what I was thinking about…We’ve got one more shot here next week against our in-state rival and so right now it’s back to work, need a great week of preparation and see if we can’t get to a bowl game. It is going to take a great preparation to do it.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 on on [email protected]