There are things in life that are so ugly they become beautiful. A child’s kindergarten art project, say, or scrambled eggs you make at 2 a.m. after a hard night out. Rarely do sports ascend to this level; generally when two football teams are engaged in the kind of awkward pillow fight that makes crowds boo and viewers tune out, someone seizes control and puts the other side out of everyone’s misery.
Not always, though. Every once in awhile, a game comes along that’s so wretched, so inept, that fans can’t help but watch, just to see how much pain they can endure, and players can’t stop playing, because someone has to catch a break at some point, right?
Nowhere was that truth more evident than in the 2014 mutual faceplant of Wake Forest versus Virginia Tech, a game so godawful it created a meme for joyful futility that persists to this day. Trigger warning: Descriptions of extreme football incompetence ahead.
Clash of the tinies
By 2014, legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was nearing the end of his storied career. Once he had led the Hokies to the very edge of immortality; Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick electrified the college football world in a losing effort against Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, then the BCS national championship game. But those days were long in the past, and Beamer was coming off two unremarkable eight- and seven-win seasons.
Wake Forest, on the other hand, would have loved to be that unremarkable. The Demon Deacons hadn’t reached eight wins in half a decade, and as a result hired Clawson in 2014 to turn around the team.
Early results were less than promising. Their only quarterback — literally, the only quarterback in the program — was a true freshman named John Wolford. Wake started the 2014 season 2-2 with wins over Gardner-Webb and Army, but then slid into a six-game skid, losing all but one by double-digit margins.
“There were a lot of games where not only couldn’t they score,” recalls Dave Goren, a longtime Wake Forest sideline reporter, “they couldn’t even move the football.”
After an opening-game whomping of FCS school William & Mary, Virginia Tech stomped into the national conversation with an upset of Ohio State, then ranked No. 8 and later to be national champion. Unfortunately, the Hokies couldn’t sustain that momentum, losing five of their next seven, including four ACC matchups. (Virginia Tech officials declined to comment to Yahoo Sports for this story or make Beamer available, likely for reasons which will soon become obvious.)
So by the time the gray days of late November rolled around, both teams were playing out the schedule, any hopes of championships or marquee bowls long gone.
Five days before Thanksgiving, they met in a game that pretty much everyone expected to be unremarkable. No one had any idea they were about to create a legend.
An exercise in futility
The game kicked off at 12:30 under gray, drizzly skies in Winston-Salem. The Wake faithful showed up, and so too did a healthy share of Virginia Tech fans, who only had a short journey from Blacksburg. Whatever they paid for their tickets, it was too much.
“We were struggling on offense,” Clawson recalled to Yahoo Sports. “I remember going into the game thinking if we could play extremely conservative and not turn the ball over, our defense could give us a chance to win. I was thinking it would be a 17-14, 13-10 kind of game.”
A quick look at the yardage statistics doesn’t reveal anything significantly out of place; Virginia Tech rushed for 111 yards and passed for 143, while Wake rushed for 74 and threw for 160. But look a little deeper. Virginia Tech carried the ball 39 times, Wake 42. Both teams were carving up the turf between the 20s, but couldn’t get anywhere near the end zone. Eight of the first nine drives ended in punts, the ninth on a Wake interception. In all, the teams combined for 18 punts, nine apiece.
“The crowd kept waiting for something to happen, anything,” Goren remembers. “They were like, OK, what’s going on … ? They got no reward from it until the end.”
Wolford continued to struggle, and his coaches dialed the game down to ever-more-simplistic levels.
“We got booed a lot when it was third-and-12 and we’d run the ball,” Clawson recalls. “We believed in John, but we just didn’t want to get him killed.”
Wake kicker Mike Weaver had chances; he missed four field goal attempts in regulation, including a re-kick after a penalty and a potential game-winner at the end of regulation. When the clock hit zeroes and the Deacons still hadn’t scored, Beamer raised his arms in exultation … and a meme was born.
Overtime wasn’t much better. The teams combined to run 18 plays for a total of 9 yards, but at least this time there was some scoring. Virginia Tech’s Joey Slye connected on one field goal, and Weaver — given a chance to atone for his many sins in regulation — drilled two. Final score: Wake Forest 6, Virginia Tech 3.
“When you have the chance to redeem yourself, those are the cool moments in sports,” Gore says. “It was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen offensively. I interviewed Mike after the game, and he was thrilled that he had that chance.”
“I was so proud of that team,” Clawson recalls. “A new head coach in his first year, a freshman quarterback — it would be so easy in that situation for a team to not show up. But on Senior Day, the whole team showed up hard, and their valiant effort was rewarded.”
And were it not for that meme, the world would have mercifully forgotten the whole game as soon as possible.
The meme: Inglorious joy
Look at how happy Beamer is there. He knows just how awful the game was, and yet he’s taking joy in what’s literally the smallest of victories. How can you not love that?
The Beamer 0-0 meme is perfect for celebrating the most mediocre achievement possible — brushing your teeth three days in a row, say, or showing up to a 1 p.m. class on time.
“That’s what college football truly is. No matter how bad the game is, there’s always something good to take away,” says Liam Blutman, creator of the Twitter college football meme/GIF factory @NoContextCFB. “That image of a head coach mockingly celebrating his team’s worst game is iconic.”
Several of the players on both sides of the ball went on to play in the NFL. Wolford won a Super Bowl as a backup quarterback with the Rams, and Slye still kicks for the Commanders. Alex Kinal, Wake’s punter, went on to set the dubious NCAA record of most punts in a career. (He’s since been passed by — and these schools will not surprise you — Adam Korsak of Rutgers and Derek Adams of Northwestern.)
Two years later, when the Wakeyleaks scandal broke and it became clear someone had been distributing Wake’s plays to other teams, some of the most frustrating parts of the Virginia Tech game started to make a bit more sense to Clawson.
“We would run a trick play, and they were all over it, pointing it out before we even snapped the ball,” Clawson says. “When you look back on it, there was no doubt they knew what was coming.”
The ACC fined Virginia Tech $25,000 for the scandal, which involved a Wake radio analyst providing information to rival schools. Virginia Tech, in turn, fined Shane Beamer, then an assistant for the Hokies and now head coach of South Carolina, for receiving the information.
“I did not share this information with anyone, including our student-athletes, anyone on the coaching staff, or my father, nor did we use the information in the game,” Shane Beamer said in a 2016 statement. “I realize I made a serious mistake in judgment by accepting the information and failing to notify officials at Virginia Tech of the communications.”
Frank Beamer would coach one more year for Tech, then ease into well-deserved retirement and several years on the College Football Playoff Committee. Virginia Tech has struggled to regain relevance since then.
Wake, however, has seen unprecedented success under Clawson since those rough early days, and Goren, at least, believes the trying times of the early three-win years paved the way.
“[Wake] played a bunch of guys who had no business playing yet [in 2014], they were too young,” Goren says. “But they grew into the fourth- and fifth-year guys that would win a lot more.”
The Deacons have been to seven straight bowls and counting, the longest streak in the program’s 116-year history, and even reached the ACC championship in 2021. They’re not challenging Clemson or Florida State for ACC supremacy, but they’re not embarrassing themselves, either. And they’re a long way from that 0-0 futility.
“I’ve been at games that were blowouts one way or another that were miserable,” Goren recalls. “Wake had some real stinkers. But as for both teams’ futility, that was about as bad as it gets.”
“I remember it very fondly!” Clawson says with a laugh. “If you had watched our entire season, there were not a lot of style points that year.”
But at least there’s the meme, now and forever.