Dennis Byrd’s Legacy Extended Beyond The Football Field

Former NY Jets Defensive End Dennis Byrd was an inspiration both on and off the football field. But his life was tragically cut short Saturday night when he was pronounced dead from a car crash near his home north of Claremore, Oklahoma.

As reported by Tulsa World, Byrd, 50, was traveling down state Route 88 in Oklahoma north of Claremore on Saturday when he was involved in a two-car collision that claimed his life and sent two others, including his 12-year old son, to the hospital in critical condition. A 17-year-old driver veered into the oncoming lane, striking the vehicle driven by Byrd, who was pronounced dead at the scene due to massive injuries.

Immediately, reaction from around the football community came pouring in over the news.

In a statement, Tulsa University athletic director Derrick Gragg – where Byrd attended college – said, “We extend our sincere condolences to Dennis’ wife Angela, their children and the entire Byrd family. Dennis exemplified true determination, tremendous heart and humility throughout his life. He had a tremendous playing career at TU and professionally with the New York Jets. He overcame great personal adversity after a life-altering injury on the football field. We know that Dennis touched numerous lives and will be missed by many.”

Byrd, who spent four years with the Jets, was involved in one of the most horrific football injuries ever when he suffered a fractured vertebra after colliding with fellow teammate Scott Mersereau during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 29, 1992. Doctors initially feared he would never walk again, but he stunned the world when he indeed did recover the use of his legs. His triumphant story came full circle in 2012 when his number was retired in the Jets “Ring of Honor,” and Dennis walked to midfield to accept his award. He went on to become a motivational speaker around the country, turning his tragedy into a positive influence on the world.

“There will never be another Dennis Byrd,” Rich Cimini of ESPN wrote after hearing the news that Byrd was killed. “He walked when the doctors said he’d probably never walk again, and he did it at a big news conference at his Manhattan hospital, where a young Jets beat writer wiped tears from his eyes because it was just about the most amazing thing he’d ever seen.”

Dennis Byrd Inspires Jets Victory Over Patriots
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Cimini was also on hand the night of the Jets most important playoff match-up in recent memory against the New England Patriots in 2011.

“Byrd, whose career was cut short at age 26, told the team he’d give just about anything for a chance to play one more down of football…The next day, his jersey — No. 90 — was hung in the Jets’ locker room at Gillette Stadium. The captains brought it out on the field for the coin toss and — wouldn’t you know it? — they upset the Patriots for the franchise’s biggest victory since Joe Namath and Super Bowl III. Afterward, several players were near tears as they recounted the impact of Byrd’s speech.”

As reported by CNN, Jets owner Woody Johnson issued a statement that echoed what many already knew. Dennis Byrd was something special, and his story would live well beyond his tragic death Saturday night.

“We are all devastated by the untimely loss of Dennis Byrd. Soft-spoken and strong-willed, the inspiration he provided to all not only by his play on the field but from the way he overcame life’s obstacles was remarkable by any measure.”

[Featured Image by LA Times]