TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG

December 30, 1996

The sound track of sport is loud: the thunder of a crowd, the
smack of football pads colliding, the pounding music during
timeouts. Yet what I remember most from 1996 is a sad, telling
silence. The place was a barren alfalfa field in the Nebraska
hamlet of Raymond. It was the third Saturday in April, two days
after a 1946 Piper Cub flown by former Nebraska quarterback
Brook Berringer crashed in that field, killing the 22-year-old
Berringer and a friend. A brilliant spring sun fell toward the
horizon, and a warm breeze washed over the scorched earth where
the plane had burned.

In death Berringer was recalled as a dedicated, caring and
studious athlete who performed ably in helping the Cornhuskers
win the national championship in 1994 and then sat with dignity
when beaten out for starting quarterback by Tommie Frazier the
following fall. Away from the field he was a good student and a
terrific citizen, a tribute to his mother and late father. Yet
these qualities would scarcely have been publicized had he not
died, because it is de rigueur to lump college football players
together as brainless, lawless mercenaries serving a corrupt
system. Berringer played for a Cornhuskers team that in 1995,
when a number of players were involved in criminal incidents,
was regarded as a chain gang dressed in red.

But no institution is all good or all evil. College football is
full of Brook Berringers. I see them every day, talk to them,
listen to them and marvel at the manner in which they juggle
adult responsibilities and pressures while surrounded by peers
who have few worries beyond schoolwork and social life. Only the
most jaded soul could get to know Florida State senior running
back Warrick Dunn and not come away feeling good. The same is
true of Tennessee's Peyton Manning, Florida's Lawrence Wright,
Michigan's Jarrett Irons, Arizona State's Juan Roque, Penn
State's Wally Richardson and many, many others.

And the same was true of that generous Cornhusker who crashed
and burned on a field last April.

COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK [Men examining wreckage of airplane]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)