Brendan started at the academy's prep school in Rhode Island, because he was colorblind and there were only so many slots in Annapolis for colorblind midshipmen. He stood out from his first day, says another former roommate, Neil Toohey. He met standards easily and in his spare time, helped others reach them. He even folded Toohey's socks and underwear so his friend wouldn't get in trouble during inspection.
"He had a leg up on the rest of us, but rather than show us up, he helped us out," Toohey says. "Who else would fold my laundry?"
Birth of a friendship
In April of his first semester at Drexel, Travis called his mother from a bar, where he was partying with fellow lacrosse players.
"I want to go back to the academy," he told her. "These guys don't take college seriously enough."
Travis had lapped up the regular college life he believed he was missing in Annapolis and had decided the taste didn't suit him. But as hard as the academy is to enter in the first place, it's even harder to re-enter.
Tom Manion drove his son to Annapolis and sat in the parking lot as Travis tried to talk a colonel into letting him come back. The teenager said time away had taught him that he needed to be at a school where every day was lived with purpose. He got his readmission.
Travis returned in the winter of 2001 to resume his plebe year with a batch of midshipmen who had never met him and had spent months forging bonds without him. Brendan was in his new company.
But they didn't know each other well until the academy paired them as roommates in their sophomore year. The living arrangement proved auspicious, bringing two kindred spirits together.
"Brendan and Travis are so similar, so similar," Erin Looney says.
Travis visited the Looney house in Silver Spring on weekends, forming tight bonds with Brendan's brothers, who were academy-bound, and keeping a watchful eye on his friend's sisters. In turn, Brendan loved to relax at the second home the Manions kept in Annapolis, near the academy campus.
They often described themselves as "brothers from another mother," the Manions say.
Erin Looney laughs, recalling how Travis was just as likely as Brendan to cast a skeptical eye at a Looney sister and say, "Why are you looking at that boy?"
"It was like jeez, Travis, I've already got three of these guys watching everything I do," she says.
Once, Brendan phoned from California and insisted that his youngest sister, Kelly, put her boyfriend on a conference call with the brothers. "How many pull-ups can you do?" he asked the poor guy. "How many push-ups?"
Exasperated with the answers, Brendan said, "Well what can you do?"
When Brendan went on dates with his future wife in Annapolis, Travis often tagged along. The roommates split the cost of a guitar and taught themselves to play, albeit not very well. Travis' greatest hit was an improvised goof called "Orange Sherbet." At other times, they might sit together in silence and suddenly burst into laughter at the same moment.
"It was almost like they could read each other's minds," Janet Manion says.
Peers regarded Travis as the more philosophical of the two. His classmate, Mathews, remembers walking into his room and finding a plastic box full of notecards, each with a quote that had struck Travis as meaningful. He became fascinated with the ancient fighting Spartans and could happily pass a day watching the whole run of HBO's series "Rome" in the family basement.
"Every movie he watched, any book he read, any girl he met at a bar, he tried to take some kind of learning lesson from it," Mathews says.
When talking about Brendan, classmates often resort to expletives to convey their awe at his physicality and determination.
"Whatever was put in front of him, he always just did it," Mathews says. "He was very stoic, but he had a presence about him. He did not want to surround himself with people who weren't trying to do their best."
Neither wanted to be on sidelines
Brendan's Navy football career stalled when a new coaching regime came in. So he turned to lacrosse, a sport he had barely played. It's extremely unusual for a novice to have any shot at playing for an elite lacrosse program, but the challenge thrilled Brendan. He didn't mind practicing rudimentary skills like throwing a ball off the wall and catching it with his stick.
Former Navy coach Richie Meade unreservedly calls him the toughest kid on the team, a fast bundle of muscle who would fly in after the faceoff and obliterate a key opposing player. He did just that against No. 1 Maryland his senior year, setting the stage for a Navy upset.
"It was a rough game, and he was the roughest guy on the field," Meade recalls. "You just felt good going in, knowing that Brendan was on your team and not the other."
Brendan played extensively his senior year, when his brothers were also both on the team. Together, the three Looneys helped take the Midshipmen to the NCAA championship game.