A sad day filled with loss for the NFL continued on Saturday evening with news that retired New York Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd was killed in a two vehicle crash on Highway 88 in Oklahoma.
Byrd, a second-round pick of the Jets in the 1989 NFL Draft, suffered a serious neck and spinal cord injury in 1992, which forced his professional football career to a premature end.
However, in the face of tremendous tragedy, Byrd inspirationally regained his ability to walk and during the team’s home opener in 1993, he walked out of the tunnel and to midfield prior to kickoff.
During halftime of the 1993 home opener, Jets president Steve Gutman also presented Byrd with the Most Inspirational Player Award, which was promptly re-named the Dennis Byrd Award. New York later retired his No. 90 jersey, which had not been worn by any other player since 1992.
In the aftermath of his injury and recovery, Byrd co-authored an autobiographical work titled “Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd.” He was also the subject of the made-for-TV movie “Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story,” in which he was portrayed by actor Peter Berg.
The crash reportedly occurred at 11:15 a.m when the 17-year-old driver of a 2000 Ford Explorer veered into oncoming traffic and struck Byrd head-on.
Byrd, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene.