Courtesy Dave Knachel / Virginia Tech
The military helicopter peels sideways through the broad blue sky as the crowd roars, and soon enough Frank Beamer appears at the mouth of the tunnel here at Lane Stadium. He’s about to lead his team onto the field, but as usual he pauses as he allows the fervor to gather, all the while surveying the world he has built from what was once the quaint mediocrity of Virginia Tech Football.
On this day, his face is drawn and tired and fixed with the grave concern that always clouds over him when one of his teams stumbles. This 2010 group waits nervously behind him in the tunnel. The players are mostly young and uninitiated yet very eager to please Beamer. But stumble they have in spectacular fashion. They appeared to have beaten third-ranked Boise State in a season-opening Monday night game, only to collapse and lose at the end. Five days later they suffered the greatest humiliation of Beamer’s impressive career by falling here, on their home field, to lowly James Madison.
“It is what it is,” he told the media afterward. It is a phrase Beamer has used often in his 30 years as a head coach.
It’s the phrase his mother taught him long ago. Projected to perhaps challenge for the national championship, Beamer’s club instead began the season with two losses. So now he stands here, eyeing the expanse of Hokie faithful who have spent the past dozen days venting their anger on talk radio across the state.
He is eager to see if they still love him.
The stadium’s massive PA begins to pound out the team’s trademark anthem, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and on cue the crowd of 66,000-plus, dressed mostly in orange, rises to the insistency of their surging noise and begins jumping up and down furiously. It’s the signature manic outburst in Tech’s football ritual, as the whole place becomes some giant undulating organism. Untold numbers of students say they chose Tech as their school in large part because they longed to be a part of this pagan worship.
“It gave me goose bumps,” Beamer would admit later. “It always does.”
In due time, Beamer and his coaching staff will steady this young team and survive another crisis as they have done so many times in his 24 years in Blacksburg.
It seems odd to some observers that this unassuming man who runs onto the field each game with a gimpy gait can possibly serve as the high priest of this intense cult of Hokie Nation. But that’s good ol’ Frankie Beamer. He’s long been recognized as Southwest Virginia’s most prominent favorite son.
What hasn’t been fully revealed, though, is just how deep and how red his family blood runs in the hills of his native Carroll County, and how important that is to his coaching success.
Pausing for a serious moment in an otherwise light-hearted interview just days before the season opened, Beamer disclosed that he is a direct descendant of the notorious Allen clan.
Yes, those Allens, the fierce mountain men who shot up the Carroll County courthouse in a spasm of violence in 1912 that left five people dead, including the judge, prosecutor and county sheriff. The incident and ensuing manhunt dominated headlines across the nation for months alongside the other huge story of that spring — the sinking of the Titanic.
Beamer’s grandfather, Barnett Allen, then just 21, was charged and acquitted in connection with the incident, but the state executed Beamer’s great uncle and a cousin and sentenced several other family members to decades in prison.
The scourge on the Allens went far beyond the reach of the law. Another of Beamer’s great uncles was shot to death by a Baldwin-Felts detective in a roadhouse in 1916 and others were said to suffer various acts of retribution over the ensuing years.