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Saturday Night Live in Lincoln featured Nebraska and Miami on center stage and ESPN2 zeroing in on all kinds of sideshows that reflect Big Red tradition … the 1994 national championship team reunion with all the hoopla that goes with it: The Tunnel Walk, The Pipeline, The Blackshirts and yes, shortly before halftime, even a sideline presentation that honored three Husker quarterbacks who led and protected that magical 13-0 unbeaten season 20 years ago.
The crowd roared when Bradenton, Fla., native and College Football Hall-of-Famer Tommie Frazier was introduced. There was equally intense appreciation for Matt Turman, the third-string Wahoo, Neb., walk-on who put on a courageous cape of his own to enable Nebraska’s great escape in Manhattan, Kan.
The late Brook Berringer, of course, started more than half the games to preserve perfection two decades ago, and because his spirit continues to live inside the hearts of Husker fans everywhere, Jan Berringer, his mother, and a nephew, represented one of the most selfless leaders in the 125-year history of Nebraska football.
Full-Length Documentary 90 Percent Finished
The good news is that isn’t the only time the good guy from Goodland, Kan., was honored on Saturday. Seven minutes before kickoff, Jan Berringer, plus Brooks’ sisters, Nicole and Drue, and other members of the Berringer family presented junior running back Imani Cross with the 2014 Brook Berringer Memorial Scholarship. Shortly before the third quarter ended, Memorial Stadium Public Address Announcer Patrick Combs acknowledged that the Big Ten Network is producing a feature-length documentary entitled Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer.
The hour-long film is 90 percent finished and will premier later this fall on BTN, reflecting Berringer’s competitive resolve, volunteer spirit and humanitarian deeds and how they endure 20 years after his tragic passing in an airplane crash. The film will feature interviews with coaches, players and family and will include rare, archived footage.
I talked to Bill Friedman, BTN’s coordinating producer of original programming, and he raves about the work that directors Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw have put into a documentary that promises to follow the success of Tiebreaker, their first BTN documentary about the 1973 classic clash between Ohio State and Michigan.
Beloved Berringer Had a Habit of Giving Back
“The Life of Brook Berringer is not just a great Nebraska story; it’s a great college football story that just happens to take place in Nebraska,” Friedman told me. “Brook was way ahead of his time. He built a reputation of giving back. We have great footage of him speaking at schools. He was beloved by everyone in the community because so many thought he represents what a Nebraskan should be. The coaches’ and players’ recollection of Brook is fascinating.”
Friedman, Engel and Shaw are strong believers in the art of storytelling. “We feel this story has enough meaningful layers to impact anyone watching,” said Friedman, who believes The Life of Brook Berringer has the national impact and universal appeal that has enabled the sports documentary industry to grow exponentially.
“I think it’s terrific,” Friedman said. “Part of the reason we all love sports is the stories, so we can tell them years later and remember things that are very personal. If you can connect with a story that is meaningful to you, I’m a big believer that you will connect with other stories that are powerful stories and well told. We feel we have a great production team. Matt and Kevin are in Lincoln this weekend to capture the 1994 team reunion. We hope to get it done in the next few weeks.”
Brook’s Passing Heartbreaking, Uplifting at Same Time
“Matt and Kevin have lived this story for the last couple months,” Friedman said. “This is not a story everyone outside of Nebraska knows, but they should know. Brook’s selflessness and his character attracted us to this story. Life was really good and then to see the tragic passing of someone of Brook’s stature is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. When I watched what we have, I could really feel it.”
The experience has helped a coordinating producer and directors capture the courage, character, and selflessness of a 22-year-old man who was just two days away from the 1996 NFL Draft when he lost control of the 1946 Piper Cub he was piloting and died when the plane crashed near Raymond, Neb.
Twenty years after Tom Osborne’s first national title, Berringer is immortalized outside Memorial Stadium, where a lifesize statue of him in uniform, standing alongside his coach, greets fans as they enter. Nebraska’s fervor for football, family and faith, especially when they saw an entire state hit the pause button and honor Berringer in their own way, whether they were attending the funeral or listening to it on radio.
“We’ve been honored to meet all the people and tell Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer,” Friedman said. “There has been incredible cooperation from so many people to bring this documentary to life. I think it just speaks to the very fabric of Nebraska and a football team that unites the entire state.”
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