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Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer

BTN Originals will debut its second feature-length documentary Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer Saturday, Oct. 18 immediately following the Nebraska at Northwestern game on BTN.

The film tells the story of Brook Berringer, an unheralded quarterback from the small town of Goodland, Kansas, who attended the University of Nebraska. A career backup, Berringer was the No. 2 quarterback behind Heisman Trophy candidate Tommie Frazier as the 1994 season unfolded. When Frazier was diagnosed with blood clots four games in to the Husker’s season – Berringer was thrust into the starting role.

Berringer won all seven games that he started that year, leading the Cornhuskers to an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the Orange Bowl against Miami. While Frazier returned to start the Orange Bowl, Berringer entered the game in the second quarter and helped spark a comeback.  Together Berringer and Frazier lead the Cornhuskers to victory which gave legendary Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne his first national championship. Berringer remains beloved in the Cornhusker state for his contributions that season.

Unbeaten - Statues[PHOTOS: See pictures from the production of  “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer”]

As the 1995 season dawned, Berringer and Frazier engaged in a spirited battle for the starting job – a job that Frazier eventually won by a narrow margin. Berringer selflessly accepted his backup role that season, as Frazier and the Cornhuskers rolled to a second straight national championship – steamrolling Florida 62-24 in the Orange Bowl, with Berringer scoring Nebraska’s final points.

The following spring, Berringer was projected to be selected in the NFL Draft. On April 18, 1996, two days prior to the NFL Draft, Berringer lost control of the 1946 Piper Cub he was piloting and died when the plane crashed near Raymond, Nebraska. He was 22 years old.

Twenty years after the Cornhuskers first national title season, the 1994 team remains a singular presence in the state of Nebraska. Berringer is immortalized outside Memorial Stadium, where a lifesize statue of him in uniform standing alongside Tom Osborne greets fans as they enter.

Beyond his contributions on the field, Berringer was revered by Nebraska fans for his character, volunteer spirit and humanitarian deeds in the community. Berringer spent countless hours visiting with young school children and hospitals, further endearing him to Nebraska fans. Many still consider him to be the ideal representation of what a “Nebraskan” should be.

Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer brings to life the story of a small-town quarterback whose character, courage, and selflessness will forever be remembered and honored by the Cornhusker faithful.

The film is directed by Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw – who, together, also directed BTN’s first feature-length documentary – Tiebreaker. Below is a recounting of the making of this this film.

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“Without knowing Brook Berringer’s story – the first question anyone might ask is, “Why do you want to produce a documentary film about a back-up quarterback?”  That is a fair question until you dig deeper.

“I remember having a conversation with an old friend of mine when Kevin and I were researching possible documentary ideas for Big Ten Network. My friend Andy is not a Nebraska native, but has lived in Omaha since 2010.  What caught my attention was when Andy told me how hard it was to express the depth of reverence the entire state of Nebraska still has for Brook Berringer. Yes, Nebraska and the University’s football team possess a communal bond, but with tens of thousands of kids having played football at Nebraska – why is Brook Berringer the one person held up as a symbol for the entire program and the state?

“Kevin and I became intrigued when, on separate occasions, we saw the statue in front of Memorial Stadium of Tom Osborne with Berringer.  Once we started researching, we had a greater understanding and appreciation for Brook Berringer and why Nebraska would immortalize him next to one of college football’s most legendary coaches.

“For the film’s backbone, a connection between Brook the person and the people of Nebraska would need to be made.  How were they similar, what were their values, what kind of spirit did they have and what did they respect?

“To achieve this, we spoke Brook Berringer’s family, friends, teammates and coaches. But we knew we would need to do more.  Having only been to Omaha and Lincoln, we decided to travel to every corner of the state to gain a better perspective and appreciation for Nebraska’s vast plains and unique topography.

“We marveled at the diversity of Nebraska’s landscape: the plant anchored dunes of the Sandhills where 720 species of plants can be found in the largest wetland ecosystem in the United States, Chimney Rock, the most famous landmark on the great migration West, the homesteaders that inhabit much of the state and work the land.

“There is a pioneer spirit to Nebraska. Her roads seem to disappear into the horizon. As we captured the state’s scenic beauty, people who saw us on the side of the road often stopped to ask if we needed help.

“As we made our way South to Brook Berringer’s hometown of Goodland, Kansas, we couldn’t help but think about how the landscape we encountered encapsulated his spirit. He had an appreciation for the outdoors, an unwavering work ethic that kept him on his path; the ability to thrive and grow despite unique challenges, the willingness to be completely open to all of the elements he encountered, a desire to help others in need and an ability to see and appreciate the big picture, having lived two-thirds of his life without his father.

“Once we discovered the parallels, we found the film’s “voice.” We hope Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer will serve as an inspiration to all who watch!”

                            –Matthew Engel and Kevin Shaw