A quarterback in bronze
A life-size statue of legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne gives final instructions to a quarterback outside the entrance to the Tom and Nancy Osborne Athletic Complex at North Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. That quarterback is Brook Berringer from Goodland. When the University of Nebraska wanted to honor Osborne with a statue, he wasn’t very interested. But the sculptor, Fred Hoppe, suggested that he stand with Berringer. Osborne consented.
Brook definitely remembered his family values. The 1995 Nebraska Football Recruiting and Media Guide called him “one of Nebraska’s most active community leaders” and listed five organizations that he had volunteered for, “to name a few.” He was always a magnet for children. When Berringer was at home during the school year, he would visit his mother’s class. They loved him.
A national champion quarterback
Four games later, undefeated Colorado came to Lincoln. Nebraska was ranked second and third (coaches/AP) and Colorado third and second. Since Nebraska was without Frazier, Colorado was favored. Berringer led the Huskers to a 24-7 victory and Nebraska topped the AP poll again. Big Eight Conference named Berringer Offensive Player of the Week.
A quarterback in the shadows
Berringer was an NFL prospect, rated more highly than Frazier, and was predicted to go in the middle rounds.
After their eligibility is exhausted, Husker football players often form basketball teams and play for charitable causes around the state. Berringer’s team finished their tour in Max Jones Fieldhouse about a week before the NFL Draft. The fieldhouse was packed. People had driven for hours to attend the game.
When interviewed, he was more interested in and excited about his soon-to-be-born niece than in his NFL prospects.
A fatal plane crash
Two days before the draft, April 18, 1996, Berringer took his friend Tobey Lake flying near Raymond, Neb. The plane rose about 250 feet in the air. Then it plummeted out of the sky and burned on impact. Osborne heard an announcement on his car radio about a plane crash that possibly involved a Husker player. He called Jan to warn her, then found his worst fears were true. They were dead.
Husker Nation wept. Goodland wept.
Nebraska’s National Championship Celebration was canceled. Nearly 37,000 tickets had been sold. The athletic department donated the proceeds to a Berringer endowment fund. They offered to refund the $3 ticket price, but few chose that option. A video tribute played before the Spring Game. Players wept. Reporters sobbed. So did the fans. The NFL held a moment of silence before the draft.
Berringer and Lake came home April 22, 1996. On the long drive from Lincoln, people lined the roads (PDF) to pay tribute. The fieldhouse was packed with over 4,000 people. People had driven for hours to attend the funeral. Berringer’s casket was topped with his helmet, Lake’s with a heap of red roses. Goodland radio station KLOE broadcast the three-hour ceremony. The next day, the funeral was broadcast across Nebraska.
A quarterback leaves a giant legacy
U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas inserted a tribute into the Congressional Record.
Berringer’s legacy lives on
Jan Berringer received over 10,000 pieces of mail, including one addressed to “Brook’s Mom, Goodland, Kansas”.
heart.… The son every Nebraska mother wanted. He had permission from every father in Nebraska to marry his daughter.
“Mostly, I think that some of us still gravitate to Berringer because of his selflessness.… The portrait of the team player.… And he resonated with so many because, well, that’s how we would like to think we would have done it. There was an ideal there, a standard, that most preach about. Berringer lived it. Until the end.”
Country group Sawyer Brown had met Berringer. He would sometimes tour with the band. Mark Miller had written “The Nebraska Song” about him. They performed a benefit concert at the 1997 Nebraska State Fair. Proceeds went to the endowment.
In 2015, he was unanimously elected to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame as an honorary member on what would have been his 42nd birthday.
In Goodland, a poster of Berringer stands in a Max Jones Fieldhouse trophy case across from the front entrance. The fieldhouse stands at 13th and Arcade. The 1990-91 basketball team’s picture hangs two west of the north door. Berringer wears No. 25. The fieldhouse is open during school hours, Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-3:21 p.m. Mountain Time, and during evening and weekend practice times. Use the south door of the Arcade Avenue entrance.
A Berringer jersey and other memorabilia are displayed in a case in Crazy R’s Bar and Grill. Goodland Kiwanis Club erected two picnic shelters in Steever Park, 16th and Cherry, one in memory of Berringer and one in Lake’s memory.
In 2013, Sean Callahan published a book “100 Things Nebraska Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die“. Berringer was named No. 29 on the list.