Hours after his mother's death, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer did what she wanted him to do. He coached the 15th-ranked Hokies to a 55-6 win against Maryland.
Herma Beamer died in her sleep early Thursday morning at her home in Fancy Gap, Va., about an hour from Blacksburg, after battling a heart problem. She was 86. But as she lay in a hospital before Virginia Tech's game at North Carolina on Nov. 6, she made sure her family knew that if anything happened to her, she wanted Frank to keep coaching and keep winning.
"That kind of tells you about my mom," Beamer said. "She wanted me right here, wanted to make sure we won. She's a tough lady. Good lady, tough lady."
So for the 211th time, Beamer walked the sideline as Virginia Tech's head coach, jacketed in maroon and orange, headset clamped firmly to his graying head. To all outside appearances, he was the same as always, exhorting and supporting his players on the sideline, conferring with his assistant coaches and questioning officials about penalties called and uncalled.
"I had my mind on the game," he said. "That's what my mom taught me."
His players, though, realized this wasn't just another game for Beamer. They had known of his mother's failing health, but it was nonetheless a surprise when news of her death filtered around the room as the team ate breakfast Thursday morning. Beamer addressed the team, relaying his mother's wish that the Hokies continue on.
"We take that just like she was our mother," quarterback Bryan Randall said. "It was special to us for him to be out here coaching us in a time like this. "
Beamer is "somebody that everybody looks up to as a father," said tailback Justin Hamilton. "To see him going through something like that and still being there for us, it lets all of us know that it's our job to give everything we have to him."
After the game, the players presented Beamer with two game balls -- one for him, one for his mother.
Before the game, Beamer got support from Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, a close friend for more than 30 years who told him Herma Beamer was in his prayers.
"I knew his mom," Friedgen said. "That's never an easy time for anybody. We all go through it. But it's such a personalized time. My wife immediately called [Beamer's wife]. She told [my wife] that if Frank seemed different, try to understand. "
Beamer had known for some time this emotional day was coming, though it surely did not ease his burden much. He spent the night of Nov. 5, the day before Virginia Tech's game in Chapel Hill, with his mom and the rest of the family at a Winston-Salem hospital, fearing she might not survive long. She recovered sufficiently to return home, but the ailment "wasn't going to get better, and so really it's a blessing that she died peacefully," Beamer said.