There are pivotal moments in any program. Some may point to Frank Beamer's hiring as the touchstone moment when Virginia Tech began its long climb to respect. Others may look back at that 1995 season where the Beamer led Hokies beat Texas to win the Sugar Bowl. I reached out to former quarterback Erik Chapman to discuss life before Beamer, and what it meant to be a trailblazer in those pre-Frank years.
I spoke with Erik about what it was like playing for a lame duck coach, and what his mindset was heading into the season. "It had kind of played out in the media. Everyone knew he was stepping down as athletic director and coach. I was not privy to those conversations". He was speaking about the behind the scenes drama that was unfolding between then coach Bill Dooley and university president William Edward Lavery. Erik had some games to play, and that was his main focus. "It's not like this happened right before the Peach Bowl, this happened early on in the season." After a tough home loss against Cincinnati, the Hokies headed to Death Valley and played a Clemson squad that was waiting for them.
"I can remember their players calling at us from up on the hill. They wanted us. After that win, I knew we were playing for our coach." That sentiment rings true perhaps with the current day Hokies. Are they playing for Beamer's future? How will they respond to that? "We were definitely lobbying for Billy Hite to take over. We weren't only playing for ourselves, we were playing for the assistants."
I asked Erik, "As a player, when was the first time you heard the name Frank Beamer?" Erik replied, "To be honest it wasn't during that time period. You can go talk to a lot of the younger fans and they have no idea who Erik Chapman is. I'm just from another era. That's the same with Frank Beamer. Once January 1st hit and the coaches came in, I understood." Publicly Virginia Tech had let it be known that on New Years' day the program was making a change. That change was the transition from Bill Dooley to guy from Murray State called Frank Beamer.
I am getting ready to shock you. Up until Erik Chapman's time in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech had never won a bowl game. Ever. In fact, in the entire decade of the 80's Virginia Tech only competed in three bowl games. Erik played in an Independence Bowl loss to Air Force, and learned a lot from the experience. "We went down to the Independence Bowl and partied quite a bit. We didn't take the game seriously, just thought we were going to roll right through Air Force, and we got punched in the mouth." This memory remained with Erik as he and his Hokies prepared for N.C. State in the Peach Bowl in 1986.
"Our plan in Atlanta was to be the first team to win a bowl game." The game was a barn burner. Chris Kinzer hit the game winner as time expired giving the Hokies their first bowl win.
Talking with Erik got me thinking. Is this the current class of Hokies caught in the transition? Are we digging deep into the archives to pull out one more crucial win? I'm not sure we are there yet. There has not been any announcements out of Blacksburg. I am sure of this: To move forward, we have to look back. This gritty, gutty bunch of pre-Beamer Hokies showed the fan base that anything is possible even under the most tumultuous of situations. I just hope that the incoming and current Hokies can answer the bell like Erik Chapman and the rest of the 1986 edition of Hokies did.