April 29, 1996
April 29, 1996

Table of Contents
April 29, 1996

NBA Playoff Preview


Images appeared on the giant video screens at two corners of
Memorial Stadium. In the seats below, the fans fell silent. This
is where people sit each autumn, giving voice to their passion
for Nebraska football, and it is where 48,659 gathered last
Saturday, completing long-made plans to watch their Cornhuskers
in a spring scrimmage, but mostly now to grieve.

This is an article from the April 29, 1996 issue Original Layout

On the screens one scene blended into another, a short life set
to music. The quarterback, number 18, running for a touchdown.
The quarterback visiting a hospital. Throwing for a score in the
1995 Orange Bowl. Reading Dr. Seuss to schoolchildren in
Lincoln: Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-Am. Hunting with his two
dogs, a matched set of shaggy, brown-and-white Brittany
spaniels. Running again with the ball. Wearing cap and gown,
graduating. Smiling. Laughing.

On opposite sidelines two teams of Nebraska players watched
solemnly, including redshirt freshman-to-be Jeff Perino, who
wore jersey number 5. He had been assigned number 18 for the
upcoming season, but on Saturday morning he asked permission not
to wear it. "It just didn't feel right," Perino said. "That's
his number."

The video screens fell dark, and for a full minute the people in
the stands cheered. Then they stood in silence, remembering.

Last Saturday was also draft day, and it held a special promise
for Brook Berringer. Unlike many Nebraska players who are
drafted each year, Berringer had not been an unqualified star.
Except for eight terrific games in the fall of 1994, when he
saved the Cornhuskers' perfect season, Berringer had been the
understudy for Tommie Frazier, one of the most productive
quarterbacks in college football history. But now it seemed
likely Berringer would be drafted into the NFL--if not on
Saturday, perhaps on Sunday--finally with another chance at
recognition. "He was looking at it as a fresh start," said
center Aaron Graham. In Berringer's hometown of Goodland, Kans.,
his widowed mother, Jan, had ordered food for the party that
would accompany Brook's selection and had arranged to rent a
satellite dish so that she could tune in the later rounds of the

Awaiting all of this last Thursday afternoon, Berringer drove
with Tobey Lake, the 32-year-old brother of Berringer's
girlfriend, Tiffini Lake, to a private grass airstrip north of
Lincoln. Flying was Berringer's hobby, and he often took
pleasure rides over the flatlands around Lincoln. On this day he
borrowed a 1946 Piper Cub owned by Harry Barr of Lincoln, a
plane that Berringer had flown often. He and Lake flew 250 feet
into a cloudless sky before the aircraft, according to
eyewitnesses, shuddered, banked sharply to the left, crashed
into a dormant alfalfa field and exploded. Berringer and Lake
were killed instantly.

In Goodland, a hidebound farming community of 5,600, townsfolk
piled roses on the high school football field and drove with
their lights on. In Lincoln, a celebration for Nebraska's
national-championship football and women's volleyball teams was
canceled. Nebraska's departing football seniors went on with
their annual dinner last Friday night, and it became a nightlong
tribute to Berringer. "It was supposed to be a night of
celebration, and instead it was a night of mourning," said
linebacker Phil Ellis, who lived off-campus with Berringer for
three years.

Even through the grief, Berringer's death told another story. In
these past two autumns, as Nebraska rolled to consecutive
national titles, much was made of the school's troubled
athletes. Berringer was the antithesis of that. "All season we
read about what awful people were up in Lincoln," says Marty
Melia, owner and general manager of two radio stations in
Goodland and a friend of the Berringer family. "We couldn't
figure it out, because we knew Brook was totally different from

He was a talented athlete (6'4", 220 pounds, 4.6-second speed in
the 40 and a strong, accurate arm) who endured a trying role--the
backup who believes he is good enough to start, and has proved
it--with enormous class. But he never complained publicly about
sitting behind Frazier.

Berringer earned his degree in business administration in
December, graduating in 4 1/2 years while ably handling the
demands of football and volunteering numerous hours to youth

Beyond all of this he left memories, moments for his friends to
cherish. Three years ago he took Graham on a flight one night in
a Cessna 152. "He flew us over the stadium," says Graham. "Then
he called the Lincoln airport and asked if he could come over
and do touch-and-go's, where we would just come down and skim
the runway and go back up. He talked them into letting us do
three of them. There we were, shoulder to shoulder in this
little plane on this big runway. It was just amazing. He was a
good friend. Just a great guy."

Two roses are braided together on a strand of barbed-wire fence
along a dirt road in the hamlet of Raymond, Neb. Beyond the
fence are rolling hills and thin patches of wild grass. Six
hundred yards in the distance sits a ring of scorched, rutted
earth. Late Saturday afternoon a succession of Nebraska fans
drove past the crash site before heading home to the corners of
the state. Now there is no one near. A warm wind blows through
bare trees, and then there is a sad stillness. A mother's words
come to mind, bringing comfort, however small. "Brook lived his
life with incredible zest, and we'll miss him terribly," Jan
Berringer had said that morning. "We were going to watch him get
drafted; everything was ready. Well, on Thursday he was drafted
by a higher team. I believe that, and that is the only way I can
get through this."


COLOR PHOTO [Brook Berringer sitting in airplane]COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK An avid pilot, Berringer, shown above in the ill-fated 1946 Piper Cub, took off with a friend aboard and crashed. [See caption above--people examining remains of airplane]