To truly appreciate what Frank Beamer has done for Virginia Tech, allow me to share some of my earliest memories of being a Hokie.
The year was 1973, my senior year of high school. The check was in the mail to the admissions office, and I was going to be spending the next 4 years in Blacksburg. I picked up the Sunday Virginian Pilot in Norfolk (my hometown) and there was a story on Virginia Tech losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa. By a score of 77-6.
That’s no typo. 77-6. Laughingstock wasn’t a strong enough word for how the Hokie football program looked back then.
My four years at Virginia Tech would be the four years of Jimmy Sharpe. The wishbone worked in the second year, as the Hokies won 8 games, but didn’t get a bowl bid. Things then fell apart as the team would go 6-5 and then 3-7-1. Sharpe would be fired. A football player would die in the dorms the day after a game in 1977, and Virginia Tech was in the national news for all the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile, teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference were the envy of all of us. "Why not Virginia Tech?" many of us thought, but the perception was simply we were not good enough. In 1977, an expansion committee actually sent a group to Blacksburg to examine the possibility, but they stayed all of about 45 minutes. Their minds were made up before they ever got there.
The Hokies were small potatoes.
Bill Dooley improved things slightly as the next coach, but he did it with a clock in his window that was a replica of a UNC football helmet. He didn’t particularly like Virginia Tech traditions, he wasn’t a Hokie, he was never going to be a Hokie, and he sure wasn’t going to stay around for a long time. Then he too was asked to leave.
Enter Frank. He was a Hokie and a gentleman. He showed respect to everyone, whether it was the press, fans who stopped him at the airport, donors or somebody out in the hall way. He was humble Fancy Gap Frank, and he set out to fix what was wrong. His only major failing was his loyalty to friends, and after a number of disappointing seasons, then athletic director Dave Braine essentially told him to fire some of his friends and bring in better coaches, or he would be shown the door. Frank did what needed to be done.
The next year, the bowl streak started, which was a big deal for those of us who had a couple of Peach Bowls to show for the last 20 years of being a fan. In 1995, Jim Druckenmiller and company made it all the way to the Sugar Bowl, but ESPN’s Lee Corso consistently said the Hokies had no chance against Texas. We weren’t a brand name and had no place in even being in the bowl. Texas fans bemoaned the notion they had to play a no-name like Virginia Tech. The game had the worst slot of all the major bowl games: New Year’s Eve at 8 PM.
Then, after trailing 10-0, Frank and the Hokies beat Texas 28-10. Corso even had to apologize the next day and admit the Hokies were for real. My daughter was 8 months old, and I thought how cool it would be if she one day went to Virginia Tech when they were considered a big-time program.
Back then you couldn’t buy Virginia Tech merchandise such as jackets, coats, etc. in regular stores. The Hokies were not a brand name, so you could buy Oklahoma, Nebraska..even UVA stuff at sporting goods stores. But anything VT was either in the bookstore or nowhere. When the Hokies came back and made the Orange Bowl the next year, jackets by Starter with the unique “square root of 1” VT logo started showing up. Maybe, many of us thought, we’re about to belong.