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Friday, August 18, 2006

Husker Urban Legends - Part II

Here is the second part of my examination of possible Husker urban legends

#4 - Brook Berringer would have been drafted in the 1996 NFL draft if not for his tragic death

Like all legends, the stories involving Brook Berringer seem to grow larger with every passing year. In this case that’s not a bad a thing. To the contrary, if I had to pick a player that best represented what it means to be a Husker it would be Brook. He was athletic, charismatic and stately. Tragically, Brook was killed on April 18, 1996, when the small plane he was piloting crashed in an alfalfa field in Raymond, Nebraska. What you may not remember was that his death came just two days before the 1996 NFL draft. Brook’s mother had been planning a draft party and had rented a satellite for the occasion before receiving the heartbreaking news.

At the time of his death, I remember Brook being a dark horse for the draft. However, most fans now seem to feel certain he would have been picked. If we examine the issue and Brook’s career more closely, maybe we can come to some sort of conclusion. Berringer was a backup for the majority of his career, but is best remembered for making the most of his opportunities. In 1994, starting QB Tommie Frazier was sidelined with blood clots in his leg. Berringer started seven games in his place that season, winning all of them and leading the Huskers to the Orange Bowl and a match-up with Miami. Frazier was given the starting nod in the Orange Bowl, but when the offense struggled, Brook came in and provided a spark, in helping to lead Nebraska to the National Championship. In 1995, Frazier was healthy and Brook returned to the bench, as Nebraska again took home the national title.

In spite of a lack of playing time, Brook did have a lot things going for him as draft day approached. First, 1996 was a pretty weak year for quarterbacks. Most draft experts had either Tony Banks or Bobby Hoying at the top of their list, but most assumed no quarterback would go in the first round. Brook was also blessed with a prototypical NFL quarterback build at 6-4, 220 lbs. In addition, he had reportedly performed well at the NFL’s scouting combine that February. Rumors also circulated that Denver was looking for a quarterback, and might be interested in Berringer. On the downside, Brook was somewhat of an unknown. He was a victim of a run-based offense and had attempted just 246 passes in his Nebraska career. Despite a completion percentage of better than 60% many scouts questioned whether Brook might be a better free-agent pick up as opposed to draft selection.

Following a moment of silence honoring Brook, the 1996 NFL draft unfolded, and seven quarterbacks wound up being selected.

Round 2 #42 – St. Louis - Tony Banks, Michigan State
Round 3 #85 - Philadelphia - Bobby Hoying, Ohio State
Round 4 #100 - Denver - Jeff Lewis, Northern Arizona
Round 4 #130 - N.Y. Giants - Danny Kanell, Florida State
Round 6 #203 - Pittsburgh - Spence Fischer, Duke
Round 7 #238 - Baltimore - Jon Stark, Trinity, Ill.
Round 7 #240 - Green Bay - Kyle Wachholtz, Southern California
Not exactly a group on the fast track to Canton. Brook’s name could certainly have fit in anywhere on that list. In fact, here are one writer’s rankings of the top quarterbacks going into the 1996 draft. Coincidentally Brook sits at number six on that list. We will never know for sure whether Brook would have been drafted or not. The evidence seems to indicate that it could have gone either way. This is one of those things that is difficult to speculate about and we certainly would have preferred for Brook to write this part of his legend himself.

Status: Brook’s tragic death ultimately leaves the veracity of this legend unclassifiable.
#5 - Nebraska can’t win in all-white uniforms

Nebraska has been sporting white jerseys and red pants on the road, since shortly after Devaney’s arrival in 1962. Many Husker fans now believe that deviating from this ensemble messes with the earth’s rotation, or awakens the ghosts of Bill Jennings and causes the team to play poorly. Some call it superstition, or screwing with tradition, while others believe the all-white signals surrender. But whatever the reason, an urban legend concerning the correlation between wearing white pants on the road and inferior performances clearly exists.

The early 90s represent the first time the Huskers shifted from wearing red pants for away games. The earliest example I can find is the 1991 Citrus Bowl. In that game Nebraska was unable to overcome a 21-0 deficit and fell to undefeated Georgia Tech, 45-21. In 1992, the Huskers also broke out the white pants for road games. Nebraska first lost to #2 ranked Washington 29-14. Next, the Huskers squeaked out a 10-point win at unranked Missouri. Then on November 14, 1992, the unthinkable happened. Marv Seiler, a fifth-year senior quarterback who had never started a game, led unranked Iowa State to victory over the #7 Huskers. The following week Nebraska switched back to red pants and beat up on OU 33-9 in Norman.

The next time the Big Red wore all-white uniforms was in 2002. I think we all remember how that season went, but let’s rehash it just for fun. In our first road test that season, #8 Nebraska traveled to State College and was thrashed 40-7 by unranked Penn State. Two weeks later it was Iowa State again taking advantage of the all-white clad Huskers by defeating us 36-14. In Stillwater it was Oklahoma State over the Big Red 24-21. The next week Nebraska stuck with the white pants but found away to win in College Station, 38-31 over Texas A&M. Kansas State awaited the Huskers two weeks later in Manhattan. The #11 Wildcats easily dispensed of white-trousered Nebraska 49-13. Finally, the Big Red closed out the 2002 season with a trip to Shreveport in December. In that match-up, Nebraska could not overcome Eli Manning and Ole Miss falling 27-23.

So, the final tally for our record when wearing all-white uniforms after the introduction of the red pants looks like this:

1991: 0-1
1992: 1-2
2002: 1-4
Overall: 2-7
Winning %: .222%
That looks to be pretty solid data in support of our struggles in games in which we don the white pants away from Lincoln. I don’t know how to explain this and unfortunately I actually used to like the way the all-white looks. However, after seeing this evidence I now definitely prefer red pants on the road.

Status: Some solid evidence of truth.
#6 - Steve Pederson informed Frank Solich of his firing by slipping a note under his door

I couldn’t decide whether I was actually going to investigate this one or not. I didn’t want to re-open old wounds or rehash arguments that I tired of long ago. However, in the end, my curiosity won out and here we are. As we all know Steve Pederson was hired as the Nebraska athletic director in December of 2002. On November 29, 2003 he made the move that has come to define him, by firing Frank Solich after a 9-3 regular season. The days, weeks and months that followed were bitter, sad, and painful for all of Husker Nation.

During those difficult times, sides were taken, fingers were pointed, vile was spewed and rumors ran wild. Speculation centered on Pederson’s motives, his arrogance, and his one-man search committee. One of the most widely circulated rumors concerned the way in which he allegedly informed Solich of his job status. The conjecture was that this was accomplished by way of a note slipped under Solich’s office door. If you doubt that this rumor is alive and well today, take a look at these google search results. In addition I remembered reading a reference to it in one of Scott Frost’s blogs. These appear to have been removed from the Journal Star website, but you can see a copy of the text here (you’ll have to scroll down a ways).

I have come across references to this legend again and again in the past few years. What I couldn’t figure out was where it came from. Certainly it couldn’t be true? Whether you like Pederson or hate him, one would assume that his management acumen is greater than that. Or was it true and had I glossed over it in the news coverage or buried it in the depths of my overactive brain? So with that in mind I set out on my search to determine its origin.

It didn’t take long for me to locate a potential source of this legend. In this article by Steve Sipple written shortly after Solich’s firing we find the following quote from Solich’s daughter, Cindy Dalton:
Dalton said her father earlier this season tried to verify information about his assistants' contracts with Pederson. Dalton said Pederson "left a nasty note under Dad's office door."
According to this article, a note was slipped under a door. However, it was allegedly a note regarding Solich’s inquiries about his assistant coaches. In addition, there is no way to verify that what Cindy Dalton is saying about a “nasty note” is true at all.

But I think this does clarify where the legend got started to begin with. In a newspaper article about Solich’s firing, his daughter mentions that a nasty note was slipped under her father’s door. Whether due to poor reading comprehension, the fogginess of details over time, or a desire to vilify Pederson, the legend became that Pederson fired Solich by sliding a note under his door. Another question then remains. Did this urban legend help lead to Steve Pederson becoming an "enemy of the state" or did his rogue status perpetuate the legend. I’ll let you ponder that one on your own.

Status: In the form the legend is presented, the evidence indicates it is false.