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.
A quarterback in the making
A quarterback turns barber
During Berringer’s senior season at Goodland High, he threw for 979 yards and 13 touchdowns and was named all-league, all-area and all-state. He was named one of Kansas high schools’ best football players of the 1990s.
A quarterback chooses the Huskers
Berringer was named All-Tournament at the end of Goodland’s Topside Tip-Off basketball tournament, and his future came calling. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne came to watch the tournament’s final game. Osborne could hardly have seen much action because he was besieged with autograph seekers.
After the game, Osborne and Berringer flew to Lincoln for Berringer’s official visit. They arrived Lincoln at 3:30 a.m. His 48 hours in Lincoln convinced him to be a Husker. Many people Goodland wanted him to attend the University of Kansas or Kansas State, but he cancelled his other visits (PDF). “I would have to tell them I had already committed,” he said, “and another visit would be a waste of their time and mine.”
He signed with the Huskers Feb. 6, 1991. After signing his National Letter of Intent, he was relieved to put recruiting behind him (PDF). “It’s good to get it all figured out,” he said. “Now I can finish basketball season.”
A quarterback excels at basketball
During basketball season, he averaged nearly 20 points per game and the Cowboys qualified for the state tournament.
A quarterback remembers his family values
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 quarterback comes to the rescue
Nebraska becomes No. 1 again
Afterward, he told the Omaha World-Herald, “‘It doesn’t seem like anything we’ve done so far has impressed anyone,’ said the junior, who in just his fourth career start completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. ‘But this was a big game, and we played so well. So it should help us.'”
A quarterback wins a Big Eight title
Against Kansas, Berringer threw for 267 yards passing, which the World-Herald noted was the best by an individual in 21 years and the best team total in 16 years. He was within 30 yards of Nebraska’s single-game passing record. The local newspaper had come to cover the game, a 45-17 romp. Berringer was finished early. Toward the end of the game, the local reporters were near the Nebraska players’ box. Berringer beckoned them over with a huge grin on his face. He lifted up his jersey to show them his flak jacket. Before every game, the training staff bolted him into it. They had to unbolt him after each game. Then he hugged both of them.
The win guaranteed the Huskers at least a share of their fourth-straight Big Eight title.
Berringer was also named ABC/Chevrolet Player of the Game Nov. 25 against Oklahoma. Frazier was suited up for the first time since the blood clots had sidelined him, but was only available in an emergency. Berringer had preserved the Huskers’ second consecutive undefeated regular season, just the fourth 12-win season in school history.
A quarterback receives post-season honors
A quarterback helps to win a national championship
A quarterback in the shadows
“Big Man On Campus to Forgotten Backup on Bench.”
Berringer told the Sun-Sentinel‘s Michael Mayo, “I’m not worried about how much playing time I’m getting, I’m more worried about whether we’re winning games. … Whether I play a significant role is not up to me, but I’ll be ready to play well.”
He scored Nebraska’s final touchdown in the blowout 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Nebraska defeated Florida 62-24 to win its second-straight National Championship.
A quarterback prepares for the NFL
Berringer was an NFL prospect, rated more highly than Frazier, and was predicted to go as early as the third round. He was invited to the NFL Combine as a quarterback, while Frazier was invited as a running back.
A quarterback on the basketball court
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 40-game tour in Max Jones Fieldhouse about a week before the NFL Draft.
Before the game, Berringer came to a meet-and-greet at Cowboy Loop, owned by his friend Dax Hayden. When interviewed, he was more interested in and excited about his soon-to-be-born niece than in his NFL prospects.
His uncle wanted him to become a Bronco, but “I’m the only one in the family who wants that,” Bill Berringer said. Berringer would only say that he wanted to “stay in the Midwest, but it doesn’t really matter.”
A quarterback makes his final appearance
On April 13, the fieldhouse was packed with over 1,000 people. People had driven for hours to attend the game. So many people came from the region that Husker Clester Johnson wasn’t sure anyone had come from Goodland. He was wrong. Plenty of people had come to see their hometown Husker. The game was a fundraiser for the Goodland Activities Center (GAC). Kale Schields, GAC Director, called the event “a very big success (PDF). I was hoping to fill The Max, but I can’t complain about the tremendous crowd.”
After two undefeated football seasons, the Huskers received an unexpected loss. They fell 97-94. “In most towns, we go out for a good time,” Husker tight end Mark Gilman said. “We’ve got too much bulk to be running up and down the court like that and they were out for blood.” Berringer scored the last field goal of the game, a thunderous dunk. The crowd went wild.
After the basketball tour, Berringer intended to return home for his draft party, but no draft party would ever be held.
A quarterback in 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 he learned that his worst fears were true. They were dead.
Husker Nation wept. Goodland wept. Six days after cheering Berringer at a GAC fundraiser, people came to the GAC to tie red and white ribbons for mourners to wear on their clothing.
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.
A quarterback comes home forever
Berringer and Lake came home April 22, 1996. On the long drive from Lincoln, people lined the roads 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, Nebraska Public Radio broadcasted the funeral across Nebraska.
A quarterback leaves a giant legacy
U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas inserted a tribute (PDF) into the Congressional Record.
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. They also performed at the armory in Goodland. The endowment funds the Brook Berringer Memorial Scholarship.
In 2018, bloggers came to Goodland to see Berringer’s hometown. which Sawyer Brown mentioned in “The Nebraska Song“.
Berringer’s tribute video played at the 1996 Sherman County Alumni Association All-School Reunion in August at Max Jones Fieldhouse in Goodland.
A quarterback’s legacy continues
In 2013, Sean Callahan published a book “100 Things Nebraska Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die“. Callahan named Berringer as No. 29 on his list.
Nebraska celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2017. As part of the celebration, the Nebraska by Heart project asked sculptors to honor Nebraska on its 150th anniversary. The artworks were heart-shaped. One, “Husker Tradition“, included Berringer’s name. Osborne and Drue (Berringer) Lovgren, Berringer’s younger sister, unveiled the sculpture, plus two more: “Heart of the Huskers” and “Red Rising“.
A quarterback featured in a documentary
In 2015, on what would have been his 42nd birthday, he was unanimously elected to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame as an honorary member.
A quarterback in Goodland
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 pictures west of the north door. In the picture, 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.
Two other Goodland locations have Berringer remembrances. A Berringer jersey and other memorabilia are displayed in a case in Crazy R’s Bar and Grill. 1618 Main. Goodland Kiwanis Club erected two picnic shelters in Steever Park, 16th and Cherry, one in memory of Berringer and one in Lake’s memory.
A quarterback in the cemetery
A quarterback at High Plains Museum
In July 2018, High Plains Museum, 1717 Cherry, Goodland, opened an exhibit of Berringer memorabilia. The museum extended the exhibit because of intensive interest. Many people from Nebraska came to see their hero. The exhibit included his championship rings, uniforms and other items.
The exhibit also included a timeline of Berringer’s life, a project completed by sixth-grade boys. The boys could not decide who should receive the project, titled “Remembrance of Brook“. After voting, they agreed to send it to Jan Berringer.
The exhibit includes two Ashley Spitsnogel paintings. “The Last Tunnel Walk” shows Berringer and the late Husker punter Sam Foltz walking into a bright light at the end of the Tunnel Walk. The painting is on display in Memorial Stadium. The second painting is “Tom Osborne and Brook Berringer“. The artist said it was “the most special painting I have ever done.”
A special painting for a very special person.
Cowboys in the NFL
Four other Goodland Cowboys have had a shot at the NFL. Dave Jones played for the Cleveland Browns. Mike Friede played for the New York Giants. Tinker Keck signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent.