40 for 40: Nebraska Football’s Defining Moments – The 1990s Locker Pass Content

By at July 17, 2012 | 8:45 AM | Print

40 for 40: Nebraska Football’s Defining Moments – The 1990s

Jan. 2, 1996 – The Greatest Ever

No split title. No angry opposing fan base. No doubt. No mercy.

After a tumultuous season off the field, Nebraska’s 1995 team rolled into Tempe, Ariz, for the Fiesta Bowl and the national title game vs. No. 2 Florida. The Gators, led by quarterback Danny Wuerffel, were in the midst of their “fun n’ gun” era, throwing the ball all over the place and not apologizing for  it one bit. NU, meanwhile, had steamrolled every team in its path with an aggressive, fast defense and an unstoppable option offense.

Pundits predicted a close game. Some of them even thought the game might boil down to the grass playing surface that favor Florida. Quietly, the Huskers planned to blow out the Gators. They knew the game wouldn’t be close. And they were right.

Three hours later, Nebraska – villains to some, heroes to others – laid claim to being the best college football team in history after a 62-24 smashing of Steve Spurrier’s Ol Ball Team. After spotting Florida an early 10-6 lead, the Husker defense pinned its ears back and got after Wuerffel in ways he’d never seen.

The Blackshirts sacked him for a safety and returned one of his passes for a 42-yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, Tommie Frazier and the NU offense – which included, on this night, the much-maligned Lawrence Phillips – racked up 524 rushing yards, the most in Fiesta Bowl history. Frazier, who had unthinkably finished second in the Heisman Trophy race to Ohio State running back Eddie George, made his argument, rushing for 199 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown to end the third quarter in which he broke at least ten tackles.

Instead of trying for 70 points, Nebraska kneeled inside Florida’s 10-yard-line and ran out the clock. There was no need. Nobody had seen that kind of team before or since.

1996 – The Big Eight Welcomes four new friends to form the Big 12.

With the Southwestern Conference crumbling under the weight of mediocrity and corruption – and Arkansas already having defected to the SEC – Texas was looking for a new conference home.

The Longhorns were struggling somewhat in football, but they had enjoyed a rich program history that made them an attractive pick for some other league. Like the Big Eight, which plucked UT, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and, on the strong political advisement of then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Baylor. The Big 12 was formed.

Texas, a guest invited to live in the house, immediately threw its weight around and took the house for its own.

It lobbied for a variety of changes that favor the Longhorns and hurt programs like Nebraska. The Big 12 North schools, eager to see NU’s power base erode, willingly sided with UT.

They were rewarded with drastic changes. The league offices moved from Kansas City to Dallas. The Big 12 Championship game, now defunct, moved toward a permanent home in Dallas, too.

The Big 12 was always an uneasy alliance, but as time wore, it became an unbalanced alliance – toward Texas and Oklahoma. It’s big reason why Colorado fled for the Pac-12 and Nebraska fled for the Big Ten. The two most consistent Big 12 North programs over the course of 15 years – gone.

April 18, 1996 – Brook Berringer’s Story Comes to a Tragic End

There is one player statue outside Memorial Stadium. No. 18 stands with his head coach, Tom Osborne, who points out to an imaginary field. This No. 18, he didn’t win a Heisman Trophy. He didn’t even win an All-Conference award. But he won a lot of hearts, Brook Berringer, just because of the kind of young man that he was. A leader. A believer. A servant in the community. A tough football player.

He stepped in for Tommie Frazier during the 1994 season and played an integral role in earning Tom Osborne his first national title that year. In 1995, as a senior, he played sparingly as Frazier – the best college quarterback in history, some believe – put an exclamation point on his career.

And yet it was Berringer – not Frazier – who was a captain on the 1995 team. And it was Berringer who did a lot of work in the locker room that year to help keep the team together as the media fired its bullets. And it was Berringer who was going to be picked in the NFL Draft with a real shot at playing as a pro.

Two days before the Draft, Berringer, a budding pilot, stepped in a 1946 Piper Cub with his girlfriend’s brother. The plane crashed just outside Lincoln in Raymond, Neb. With his whole life and career ahead of him, Berringer was dead at 22.

A memorial service was held in Berringer’s honor two days later at the Red/White Spring Game. Nearly 50,000 people attended – likely the largest funeral crowd in the history of this state.

Wide receivers coach Ron Brown delivered a rousing eulogy the following week in Berringer’s native Goodland. Kan. Brook’s mom, Jan, received 10,000 pieces of mail. Somewhere in the Midwest, a future NFL quarterback Kyle Orton decided he’d wear No. 18 whenever he had the chance. Orton still wears that number, for Denver Broncos, today.

Berringer’s lasting impact is hard to measure, but palpable. Fathers take their sons by the statue of the north side of Memorial Stadium. They take their picture and explain the story. NU created a Brook Berringer Citizenship Team, comprised of football players most active in the community.

The legend of a good kid from Goodland lives on.

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