"When Tommie was at quarterback," Benning says, "Coach Osborne wasn't as willing to do some things that he was with Brook—things that Tommie could've done just as well. With Brook, he might not hesitate to throw the ball on first-and-10. Tommie can pass then, too, but the only time he got to throw, usually, was like third-and-eight."
Any comparisons between Berringer and himself still annoy Frazier, who admits to being the sort of guy who tends to neither forgive nor forget. "People actually told me to my face that the team was better with me out and with Brook in," he says. "But in my opinion Brook did what a backup is supposed to do: He went in there and performed the best that he could to help the team win. I heard stuff from some teammates right before the Orange Bowl, when Coach Osborne announced who was going to start. I learned then who my friends were. It didn't bother me that not everybody thought I should start, but I remember who those people are, and that's one thing I'm never going to forget."
After he was released from the hospital and started attending classes again, as many as 200 people a day walked up to him and asked, "Hey, Tommie, how's the blood clot?" He wanted to say, "The blood clots are gone," but that required some explaining. Instead he simply replied, time and time again, "My leg is fine, thank you."
"I should just hang a lighted sign from my forehead that says MY LEG IS FINE," Frazier says now. "I could switch it on whenever anybody says, 'Hey, Tommie. how's the blood clot?' Maybe that would stop them. Maybe. But I doubt it."
Frazier is so widely recognized in Nebraska that he rarely ventures out of Lincoln, not wishing to attract attention to himself. If people don't quiz him about the blood clot, they ask him about the time he and two teammates helped put out a house tire. Or about his older brother Melvin, who today is in a Florida prison serving nine years on a drug conviction.
Frazier came to Nebraska from Manatee High in Bradenton, Fla., where as a senior he was an All-America, sought after by the country's best football schools Tired of the recruiting pressures, Frazier tried to cancel a scheduled recruiting visit to Nebraska, but his mother intervened and reminded him that he must always honor his commitments. Priscilla is like that: the light in his darkness, the voice that reaches him through any storm, the lifeline whenever he's in need.
"When he was a little boy, he would go in his room and close the door and sit there in the dark," she says. "And I'd go in after him and give him a talk. Tommie is very proud and strong-willed, and he always wants to be on the winning team Well, he'd have lost a game or something and he'd be upset about it. 'I can't do it al by myself, Mama,' he'd tell me. And I'd say, 'No, Tommie, you can't. But you car do your best. And if you do your best and you lose, then you won't feel so bad about it.' I was always talking to him like that."
And so have others. At the start of his freshman year, Frazier walked into Steele's office and announced that he was homesick and wanted to return to Florida. "Well, Tommie," Steele said, "wt have an open date coming up."
"No, Coach, I want to go home home. For good."
"Let's call your mama on the phone."