Sawyer Brown lead singer Mark Miller recently opened up on Outsider’s The Road You Leave Behind with Mary Smith podcast about the inspiration behind “The Nebraska Song.” The popular tune was written for the late Nebraska Cornhusker quarterback Brook Berringer, who was a close friend of the band.
Miller said he first met Berringer at a meet and greet after a show in the mid-1990s. He noticed the 6-foot-5-inch tall college freshman long from across the room.
“(Berringer) was one of the most charismatic guys I’ve ever seen in my life,” Miller told Smith. “… He looked like a Hollywood movie star.”
The two became fast friends. After Berringer led the Cornhuskers to back-to-back National Championships, he talked the school into hiring the band to perform at a celebration event, Miller remembered. But Berringer had one stipulation.
“He said, ‘you have to write a song,” Miller recalled, laughing. After some prodding, Miller finally agreed and a few days later he’d penned “The Nebraska Song.” Berringer asked Miller to sing it over the phone. Again, Miller gave into the young man’s charisma and sang him the song.
Berringer loved it, he said, and the two made plans to meet at the airport the next day. Sawyer Brown’s performance was a secret, so Berringer was going to pick up the band himself at the airport. Unfortunately, that never happened.
Berringer, who hoped to be a pilot after graduating, crashed his plane and died on April 18, 1996. He was 22.
“I was just crushed and stunned,” Miller recalled. “This kid is (22) years old this just doesn’t happen.”
Mark Miller Waited 10 Years to Perform the Song Live
The band put “The Nebraska Song” on its Six Days on the Road album. It’s the 18th track on the album, despite there only being 13 songs, because Berringer wore number 18.
But the band didn’t play the song live. Miller said he’d sung it live once — to Berringer over the phone — and that was enough. Then Tom Osborne, who coached Berringer at Nebraska, called in 2006. He wanted to set up a permanent scholarship in Berringer’s name, Miller recalls. If the band would play a concert, it would help raise some money and the university would match it.
But Osborne had a request. He wanted Sawyer Brown to perform “The Nebraska Song”
Miller didn’t want to, but it was Berringer’s song after all. So, he decided to “man up” and perform it. Two lines in, Miller said he was too emotional and didn’t think he’d be able to finish. That’s when he heard the crowd singing it back at him.
“The crowd is singing louder than I am,” Miller told Smith. “They really helped me finish it.”
Now, the song is a staple whenever they’re in the state. Not only does it get a good reaction from the crowd, it lets him be close to his friend again.
“When we go to Nebraska, we know we’re playing that song,” he said.