At the end of August, when Nebraska drilled West Virginia in the
Kickoff Classic, the Cornhuskers' quarterback was a slippery, 6 ft.
2", 205-pound option specialist improving as a passer each day,
inspiring his teammates with his leadership and standing at the
forefront of the Heisman Trophy race. He was the one player Nebraska
could not afford to lose.
At the end of November, when Nebraska had completed a 12-0 regular
season and put itself in position to win the national championship,
its quarterback was a 6 ft. 4", 210-pound statue with a strong arm,
straight-ahead speed and minimal quickness. He would receive nary a
vote in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy.
! The season's starter was Tommie Frazier, the finisher was
Brook Berringer -- until Frazier returned to start in the Orange Bowl
and rally the Huskers to victory. Together they are an advertisement
for the Nebraska system, into which athletes of varying types can be
plugged while the machine chugs along smoothly. ''I don't think you
could find one school that lost its starting quarterback and still is
undefeated this late into the season,'' Frazier said in late October.
The unexpected torch-passing took place when Frazier was sidelined
with a blood clot in his right leg on Sept. 25. It was a jarring blow
to Frazier, who had dedicated himself to piloting Nebraska's run to
the national title and also to lifting the spirits of his 29-year-old
brother, Melvin, who is serving a nine-year drug sentence in a
''He called me after the West Virginia game,'' said Tommie. ''None
of the inmates believed I was his brother.'' Said Melvin, ''Tommie
sent some pictures. Then they all believed me.''
However, the discovery of the blood clot altered Tommie's
perspective on his role as an athlete. ''This wasn't just my football
career,'' he said. ''It could have been my life.''
As for Berringer, he did what was required: He kept the Mercedes
on the road and, at times, drove it skillfully. Berringer completed
62% of his passes for 1,295 yards and 10 touchdowns, with just five
In an unexpected way Berringer showed he was remarkably similar to
the man he replaced: Both have an affinity for silence. Frazier has
never been one to wax poetic about his own deeds; he summarized the
Heisman race by saying, ''You talk about that and people are just
going to think you're out there doing what's best for you.'' After
the Huskers' win over Wyoming, Berringer had this to say of his
effort, which included three rushing touchdowns: ''I'll know more
when I look at the films.'' As Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald
wrote, ''Babbling Brook, he's not.''
But after the Wyoming victory, a narrow escape that made the
Huskers believe they could win without Frazier, offensive tackle Rob
Zatechka said, ''Brook is right up there in showing that he's not
That's often said about Frazier, a player Nebraska could not
afford to lose after all.