It seems far removed from this action-packed week in the Big Easy, but it wasn't too many years ago that Shane Beamer stood in the shower of his family's home in Blacksburg, Va., trying to hide the tears that he couldn't help but let fall. Tuesday night Beamer may again be fighting back tears, but this time they could be tears of joy. Beamer will be in the Superdome alongside his father, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer, as the Hokies battle Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for their first national championship.
"It's a great Hollywood story," said Shane Beamer, Virginia Tech's senior deep snapper. "If someone had asked me to script the perfect season to this point I couldn't think of anything to add to it. The word I've used is storybook. I never could have expected this, things so far have been perfect. Now there's just one more to go that would make it unbelievable."
Things weren't always so perfect in the Beamer house. Just eight years ago, in 1992, Virginia Tech suffered through a 2-8-1 season, the worst since Frank Beamer took over the program in 1987. Shane, then a sophomore at Blacksburg High School, couldn't walk the school halls without hearing, "Hey, where do you think you're going to live next year?," a reference to the precariousness of his father's job.
"Dad had it better than all of us, because when we were struggling he was able to go to the office and get away from the public," said Shane Beamer, who admits such goading sometimes made him want to fight. "My sister and I were the ones that had to go to school and hear things, and my mom had to go to the grocery store. I'm not going to say he had it easier, but in a way he was sheltered from it."
The Beamers reached an all-time low on Oct. 10, 1992. Virginia Tech had lost, 21-17, at Louisville, falling to 2-3. The Beamers were waiting for Frank to return when the phone rang. Eleven-year-old Casey, now a freshman at Virginia Tech, answered the phone and told the caller her father had not yet returned from Louisville. The man proceeded to yell at the girl, telling her what an awful coach her father was.
Shane said Casey came to him in tears, and that it was then that the pressure began to close on him, too. Casey left the room to find her mom, Cheryl. Shane headed for the shower.
"It was just getting to be too much," Shane Beamer said. "Of all things for someone to call and have my sister in tears."
Said Cheryl Beamer: "Here she was, this soft little voice on the other end of the phone, and I couldn't believe the things she said this man said to her. I asked Casey why she didn't just hang up and she said that she didn't want to be rude. So much for teaching your kids manners, I guess. As soon as Frank walked in the door I was waiting for him."
Frank Beamer sat down his two children and did the best he could to assure them that better times were ahead.
"Dad tried to explain to us that sometimes you are up here," Shane Beamer said, raising his hand toward the ceiling. "And sometimes you are down here. He said, 'Right now we're down here, but don't you worry. Your daddy's a good coach and we're going to be up here again.'
"I never worried after that. My dad's a man of his word. Anything he says you can take to the bank."
Virginia Tech stuck by Beamer, and the next season the Hokies bounced back with a 9-3 record and a 45-20 win over Indiana in the Independence Bowl. Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl will be their seventh straight bowl appearance.
Shane Beamer was on the sideline for the win over Indiana. He was there in 1994, when the Hokies went 8-4 and played in the Gator Bowl. When he graduated from Blacksburg High in 1995, he decided to walk on at Virginia Tech, turning down offers to play wide receiver at smaller schools such as James Madison, Randolph-Macon and Bridgewater and to long snap at North Carolina State.
Beamer, a first-team Group AA all-state wide receiver coming out of high school, said he did worry about being perceived as "just the coach's son," but that he was never treated that way by any of his teammates.
"Shane's worked too hard since the day he got here to have ever been treated any different than the rest of our players," said Billy Hite, Virginia Tech's assistant head coach. "He and Frank both work hard, maybe even too hard, to make sure there is no favoritism."
So Shane, who knew he would rarely get the opportunity to play wide receiver for the Hokies, instead decided to hone his skills as a deep snapper. He redshirted in 1995, played sparingly on special teams in 1996 and has since served as the snapper for punts for three seasons.
"What he's done, he's worked hard to develop a skill that is very vital to our football program," Frank Beamer said. "And then I think, well, the simplest way to say it is we've just got a lot of memories together and that's something that we're going to always have. So I'm really appreciative of the opportunity to be on the same sideline for so long."
That will end after the Sugar Bowl. Shane, who graduated in December with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, will leave Blacksburg for graduate school.
"I need to get away--personally and professionally--for a little while," Shane Beamer said. "I love Blacksburg, and I could easily see myself back one day, but for now I need to get away and do my own thing."
But not just yet.
"There's one more chapter in this storybook to be written," Shane Beamer said. "One more scene to make it perfect. You don't know how I wish that guy who called that night back in 1992 would show his face now. We Beamers have something for him to see."