The Re-Evaluation Of A Sports Fan

Imagine being a sports fan all your life – knowing who is playing on Saturday and Sunday. Knowing who is in the playoffs and knowing the rosters of every team.
Being a Virginia Tech Hokies football fan I talked about interviewing the legendary Coach Frank Beamer. I sat behind the bench of a Tech game when they played Rutgers and I saw the players up close. I was there during Marcus Vick’s (yes, the brother of one Mike Vick) rookie year when he threw 2 interceptions and was benched for playing like crap. I remember seeing him and questioning how someone like that could be so highly rated over his brother. He sure didn’t look great that day.
Little did we know all the things that he would be known for – the stomp, running from the cops, the weed and the underage drinking with girls. It turned into one of the worst examples of Coach Beamer believing in a player in his tenure at Virginia Tech. I almost believe it soured him for the rest of his career from then on out. He certainly never appeared to be the same Coach after that.
Since Coach has retired and I’ve gotten older, I don’t follow Tech football or many other sports for that matter like I used to. I do try to play hockey and ref soccer but that’s about as deep as I get. Maybe it’s the philosopher in me or the psychologist that does too much questioning. I’ve ruined it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve even ruined playing these sports just by questioning.
Walking away from the games has made Saturday and Sunday different. I can remember fall Virginia days with the windows open, the leaves falling, watching football with a blanket on. It didn’t matter what games were being broadcast I was watching them. Now, you’ll be lucky to catch me watching football for an extended period of time. I don’t know the roster of Tech and all I know is that Coach Beamer shows up on the sidelines to talk to the players but not instruct them.
The opportunity came up to go to Syracuse to see the Hokies play a Saturday game – one that I always said I would take if I ever had the chance. I declined.
“It’s too much, I don’t know the players anymore and Beamer isn’t there.”
It’s just not the same for me. It’s a struggle and a painful one at that. Something that was the biggest part of my childhood is gone. Through the questioning of concussions, wondering about the mindset of athletes and the examination of profits in sports I’ve lost that love for the game. I do truly wonder if I think too much about things.
I find myself not enjoying skating or soccer as much anymore. I question my ability to skate. Why? Why should I? It feels like a cycle or a circle. Here I go again.
“I can only do so much,” I tell myself, “but I don’t do enough.”
My body gives out and I can’t push it like I used to. I know there are guys older than me playing but why not me? Am I just not built the right way? I question my genetic makeup.
“Maybe I wasn’t built for skating.”
I’m arguing with people when it comes to soccer – i’m too strict with the rules.
“Why,” I ask myself, “does it have to be this way?”
Should I really be forcing everything in soccer to be by the book? Do I have to look for all the details to be just right?
I know that I can’t step down from my position as a coach and ref. I can’t quit on the volunteer organization simply because I feel like I am not doing the job properly. Can I?
Ah self doubt you creep in again.
Self doubt my old friend.
Where would I be if I didn’t doubt myself?
Before I step on the field I’m confident but between the games I am ready to call it quits. I think back to each decision and each play wondering if I missed something. I know I had to have.
“No one is perfect,” I tell myself.
Did I call one game too leniant? Did I call one too strict? Why? Was I tired?
It breaks me to think about these things in between games. I want to hand in my whistle because I’m sure I’m letting someone down. I can’t be a good ref and doubt myself can I? Isn’t that the reason why I gave up on sports? Because I doubted the nature of it? I doubted everything about it. How pure it was supposed to be. Now I’m doubting how good a job I’m doing as a ref. How can I help a kid learn a game if I question what it is I’m seeing?
All these questions. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Aren’t I supposed to be good at this? For all the talk I’ve made out of knowing the game, I should boast about my ability. But that’s not me. I spend more time questioning my ability than praising it.

The same person who can build a wall can tear it down. I can just as easily call a good game as I can a terrible one. How do you keep the human element from creeping in when you are supposed to be a robot? An emotionless machine that calls fouls. That can be a challenge as I tend to my feelings on my sleeve. Sometimes I think that’s the best place for them. The more I think about it there’s not enough room there for all of them.

The End of An Era

It’s taken some time for it to truly sink in, but less than twenty four hours later I’m still not sure how I feel about Coach Beamer deciding to hang up the whistle.  A part of me sees it as a time for the Hokies to move on and pursue a new route in recruiting and play calling. But the other part sees what he did for the University, the students and Blacksburg itself.

I looked down to check the time on my phone while I was refereeing my daughter’s soccer game and an ESPN alert said Coach Beamer is retiring.  In the midst of trying to watch the kids keep the ball in bounds and stay onside, I couldn’t exactly stop and think about Beamer.  But it slowly has crept into mind, “what is the University going to do?”  “What will Tech Football be without Beamer?”

I think about the time that a shy 18 year old kid found his way to the practice field of the 15th ranked Hokies, at the time, and watched his heroes with awe.  It’s a story I’ve recounted on this blog, but I’ve never told to many people.  It’s one of those moments where I got so close to the team but I’ve never been there again.  If I could do it again, I’d make even more out of it, and enjoy it even more.  For some reason, I thought at the time that I’d get even more chances to do it again.

“Yo kid,” I still remember the guy on crutches yelling at me.  “What are you doing here?”

It was a good question.  Somehow I floundered around enough to convince him that I belonged on the sidelines.  Seeing that I was maybe 150 pounds soaking wet and six feet tall if I stood on a rather large rock, he could tell I wasn’t there to join in on the practice.  I don’t remember what I told him but I will always remember Tee Butler.  I don’t know where he is now and I don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s one of the Hokies that made me feel comfortable enough to talk to the big man.

You know, the big man: Coach Beamer.

If you’ve ever been 18 years old, come from a small town and shy as hell; going up to someone with the prestige and championship pedigree of Coach Beamer is intimidating as hell.

When he ended practice, Tee said it was my turn and wished me luck. I think he even laughed as he hobbled away.

With whatever courage I could muster, I got up the nerve to go talk to Coach.  I didn’t know what to expect, well, let’s be honest, I did know what I was expecting.  I was expecting him to be like that guy in practice who yelled when you didn’t get the drill right.  The Coach who did not have time for me or who was going to give me an attitude because I was cutting into his time when he could be calling recruits.

What I got was down-home charm.  I got a Coach who was supportive and could tell that I was nervous and out of my depth.  I got a Coach who seemed to genuinely care.  I got a Coach who did not act like he was bigger than the University or the students.  It was truly impressive to me when I look back on it.  At the time I was just happy that I didn’t pee my pants.  Now that I think about it, he left me feeling like he truly cared about our meeting.  Whether he knows it or remembers it, I will always remember that day when I got to interview him.  Not that I was that great of a reporter because my questions were awful, but for someone who is a Hokie fan and can’t always cross paths with the Coach, it is one of those moments that I will always remember.

Some people treasure meeting athletes and meeting celebrities, but it’s funny, I was terrible at “my job” that day and he was as cool as a cucumber and tried to help me.  He didn’t rush me, and I stopped the questions because I ran out of them, otherwise I think he would have stood there with me all day in his straw hat.  It’s amazing, this is a guy that will someday end up in the College Football Hall of Fame.

It makes me torn when I watch the Hokies play sometimes on Saturdays.  I feel like he’s the nicest guy you could ever want to meet and truly cares about the players but maybe the game has passed him by a bit.  I hesitate to say that.  I truly do.  The man was an innovator on special teams and created “Beamer Ball.”

He always said he’d walk away when he said it would be beneficial for the program and maybe his feeling is right.  I’m not sure, maybe he’s not right.  How can I judge?  It’s his decision not mine.  I’ve been looking at it all year and saying he’s been the problem or the offense has been the problem, but how do I know?  I’m not there in the game.  I’m not there in practice.  I’m not there on the sidelines.  I’m not there with a headset.  I’m not there in the huddle.  How do I know?  Hell I couldn’t even get the courage up to really interview him.  What do I know?

Only Coach knows what is truly right for him.  From what I’ve seen only Coach knows what is truly right for the University and the players. They are his players because he treats them like they are part of his family, just like everyone he comes in contact with.  It will be odd not to see Coach walking that sideline next year and I still have yet to really digest it.  There are still those questions: Who could replace him?  How could you ever replace him?  Will it ever be the same?  Where will the program go from here?

I guess it will all work out somehow. I’m sure Coach will give it all he has for the rest of the year and no doubt the players will do all they can to send him out on a high note.  It will be interesting to see if recruits back out because Coach is leaving.  When I think of him, I think icon is probably a good way to describe him, but to me he’ll always be that Coach that gave me a moment that I’ll never forget and I thank him for that.  If I ever get the chance I would like to do it in person, but until then, thank you for everything Coach.