Remembering the legend of Dennis Byrd
By Chris Stephano
Upon the tragic passing of Dennis Byrd, the fans should take a moment to remember a great man who was the heart and soul of the New York Jets.
The New York Jets and their fans suffered a tragic loss Saturday. Reports surfaced that former defensive lineman Dennis Byrd died in a car accident near his Oklahoma home.
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When famous people pass away, it’s almost become customary to write flowery tributes. People’s flaws are swept under the carpet; their accomplishments are embellished. Epic tales are written, because to do otherwise would supposedly dishonor the diseased.
This is not one of those tributes.
Months ago, not long from when I first started writing for The Jet Press, I listed Byrd as one of the greatest draft picks in team history. In the description I wrote back then, I noted that “Byrd is the heart and soul of the Jets.”
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For a team that has boasted stars like Joe Namath and Curtis Martin, how did Byrd earn the right to such effusive praise?
Like everything Byrd did, it wasn’t easy.
The Jets selected Byrd out of Tulsa in the second round of the 1989 NFL Draft. The defensive lineman quickly established himself as an impact player, amassing seven sacks during his rookie season.
Byrd’s early success landed him a starting role with the Jets. Over his first three seasons, he piled up 27 sacks.
Dennie Byrd, 1992: “The day I don’t have time to sign an autograph for a kid is the day I get out of football."
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) October 16, 2016
Byrd loved playing for the Jets, he loved the fans, and his career was flourishing. He seemed destined to go down as one of the greatest players in franchise history.
While everything seemed to be going perfectly, it would all come to a sudden and tragic end. In a 1992 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Byrd suffered a horrific neck injury. His future in football immediately became irrelevant, as doctors wondered if he would even live, let alone walk again.
Like everything he did, Byrd threw himself 110% into the rehab process. Against all odds, he walked out on the field next year for the team’s home opener.
Although his injury ended his NFL career, Byrd remained an inspiring leader long after he stopped playing football.
During the 2010 season, Byrd sent his final game-worn jersey to Jets head coach Rex Ryan. The team soared to a 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Prior to their AFC Divisional playoff game against the Patriots in New England, Byrd gave a powerful speech to the team.
Once again, in true Byrd fashion, the team overcame. The Jets pulled off the upset, beating the Patriots 28-21.
As a young Jets fan, that victory remains my single fondest memory.
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May the man who never quit on himself, his family, the Jets, and especially the fans, rest in peace.