Randy York’s N-Sider
Through the years, I’ve known that Tommie Frazier respects Brook Berringer – the selfless, iconic late quarterback who greets Big Red fans at Memorial Stadium’s North entrance, along with Tom Osborne. While the countdown for Frazier to become a full-fledged College Football Hall-of-Famer continues, The N-Sider gives Touchdown Tommie the opportunity to discuss Berringer’s impact on him and why a statue that features his trusted teammate makes consummate sense. I asked the MVP of back-to-back national championships (1994-95) how Berringer influenced his Hall-of-Fame career.
“Brook was a big part of our ‘94 national championship team,” Frazier said. “When I was diagnosed early in the season with blood clots, he stepped right in and led us to the national championship game. He didn’t start that game or any of the games in our 1995 national championship season. But he did everything he could and helped us in so many other different ways. He was so much more mature in the way he handled everything because he had his priorities straight.
“Brook wasn’t just a role model for me. He was a role model for everyone in the whole state and throughout Husker Nation,” Frazier said. “I think about how tough it would be to handle the situation he was in and still walk into the stadium every day willing to do whatever he could to help us win a national championship. He was the same person every day and a true man in every sense of the word. People don’t understand what he contributed in that national championship game against Miami. I started and didn’t do very well, and he came and kept the game close. Without him, we don’t beat Miami. People forget how valuable he was in that game.” The N-Sider didn’t forget, so we ask Frazier more questions and get the context that only a Hall-of-Famer can provide.
Q: Was Brook a guiding light, a Rock of Gibraltar or what?
A: He was both. We were close because we were in the same meeting room every day, but off the field, we weren’t very close. I don’t know how to explain it other than he came to Lincoln from Northwest Kansas and I came from Central Florida. It’s kind of hard to connect from such different backgrounds. One thing we did have in common was a great desire for the University of Nebraska to be the best football team in the nation. We were there to help each other … together. Everybody talks about the competition and how close it was, but we didn’t look at it like that. We were both there to help Nebraska win games, and that’s the way we both felt. Anyone who attended Brook’s funeral knows he was selfless and faith-based. He really did shed light in life and was a rock for everyone.
Q: What was the most amazing thing about Brook?
A: When I look at my kids and think about the age that Brook was when he passed away, it hits me hard. In my book, his life was taken too early, but I think that his passing molded a lot of us who played with him into the people we are today. He always did things right. He put his faith first and we learned from that. We care for our families and friends because we never know when a tragedy like that can happen. Brook taught us all that you can have a big impact, whether you’re on the field or off. That’s the one thing we think about when we talk about Brook today – the impact he made on so many people’s lives because he was so selfless in the way he carried himself and what he believed in.
Q: In your heart of hearts, what specifically did he teach you?
A: He did things all the time that he wanted to do that I didn’t want to do because I was selfish. He was always giving his time back to the community, and I didn’t have time for it. I didn’t see the benefit because I was looking at it from my perspective. Brook made time for everyone. Now that I look back on his leadership, I wish I hadn’t been so selfish. To me, that’s one of the biggest legacies he left for all of us – to take the time to help someone else. Look at Nebraska now. Everyone wants to do stuff like he did because that’s part of our culture. He was ahead of his time and everyone knows and understands the benefit of giving back now. A big part of why we’re at Nebraska is to grow up and to learn how to serve others. When he was 20 years old, I didn’t get it, but he did. Coach Osborne never forced anyone to do those things. He encouraged us, but I was going through my own difficulties and wasn’t ready to give. Given the circumstances, I’m not saying I was right or wrong, but the older I get, the more I realize that I can help others not make the same mistake I made.
Q How will you do that?
A: Through the N-Club. (Nebraska Associate AD) Keith Zimmer has asked me to share my experiences with others. I’ve been in businesses that didn’t work and others that did. I can see things now that I didn’t see then. I can help guys that might be struggling get their lives going in the right direction again – both on the field and off.
Q: Let’s switch the focus to some competitive memories. Everybody talks about the national championships, but what about leading Nebraska’s 1993 team to within a field goal of a national title. How memorable was that for a sophomore quarterback?
A: In my mind, that was probably the best game that I played at Nebraska. Even though we were unbeaten going into the Orange Bowl, it was a game no one in the country gave us a chance to win. We all came together as a team that year more than any other year I was there. We fought and we fought and we fought until we had a good chance to win it. We missed the field goal. We lost (18-16 to Florida State), but it became the game that taught us what it would take to be national champs. We won three of the next four.
Q: We’ve already discussed the ’94 team, but didn’t we need three quarterbacks to win the national title, not two?
A: We did. When I was sidelined and Brook couldn’t play, Matt Turman had to start at Kansas State. We won a big game with a walk-on quarterback. If he doesn’t come through, we wouldn’t have played Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Q: Do we have enough time to talk about that national championship season in ‘95 when no one came within two touchdowns of Nebraska?
A: Florida got most of the pregame hype. The national media thought they might be the best college football team of all time. It wasn’t even close (62-24). Looking back, that was a bunch of men playing against boys. We went into that game knowing we were going to win. In our minds, the only question was by how much? That was the conversation we had all week amongst ourselves. Coach Osborne kept reminding us that Florida was a tough team and unbeaten, but I think he knew what we were capable of doing by the way we were practicing and how much we wanted to go out and show everyone how hard we’d prepared. I mean, they were a very good football team, but we were great. We might have been the greatest ever that week because we went out and showed America and the world that in 1995 we were a team that was not going to be touched. To do it on the stage we did it … I mean, it wasn’t just the offense that dominated. The defense dominated, too. In fact, all these years later, I can tell you I enjoyed the defense’s performance in that game more than I enjoyed the offense. They were phenomenal.
Q: Why were you all so confident going into a game that appeared to be an even match between two unbeaten teams?
A: We knew what we had. We also knew that the only way we were going to lose would be if we beat ourselves. Look at Coach Osborne. Throughout his career, his team very rarely beat itself. In the four years I was there, we beat ourselves one time – at Iowa State my freshman year. Actually, we lost the game during that week of practice. We didn’t prepare like we should have prepared. We thought we could just show up and beat ‘em. It was a hard lesson to learn. That doesn’t work. You reap on Saturday what you sow during the week. That was football then, and that’s still football now, and that’s one thing that will probably never change.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Your interview with Tommie Frazier was outstanding ... deep and informative. I've followed the Big Red since 1962 and attended the first game in the home sellout streak against Mizzou. I look back on all these years and think of all the terrific quarterbacks we've had. I place Tommie Frazier at the TOP of the list. He was THE best to come through the system, and that includes Eric Crouch. Tommie SHOULD have won the Heisman Trophy, too. I watched his induction ceremony tonight and will drop him a congratulatory note. Keep up the fine writing. Thanks. Randy Gray, Phoenix, Arizona