Dennis Byrd

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For the defensive lineman for the Boston Patriots, see Dennis Byrd (American football, born 1946).
Dennis Byrd
No. 90
Position: Defensive end
Personal information
Date of birth: (1966-10-05)October 5, 1966
Place of birth: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Date of death: October 15, 2016(2016-10-15) (aged 50)
Place of death: Claremore, Oklahoma
Height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Weight: 270 lb (122 kg)
Career information
High school: Mustang (OK)
College: Tulsa
NFL Draft: 1989 / Round: 2 / Pick: 42
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Sacks: 28
Safeties: 1
Player stats at PFR

Dennis DeWayne Byrd (October 5, 1966 – October 15, 2016) was an American football defensive end and defensive tackle for the New York Jets of the National Football League. He attended college at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He played professionally for the Jets for four seasons beginning in 1989. Over his four seasons, he recorded 28 sacks and 110 tackles. His career ended when he was paralyzed following a collision with a teammate during a game. Through rehabilitation, he later managed to walk again.

Byrd was killed in a car accident near Claremore, Oklahoma, on October 15, 2016.[1]


Byrd attended Mustang High School in Mustang, Oklahoma. In his senior year, he was named an All-State defensive end.[2] He enrolled at the University of Tulsa, where he played college football for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Byrd started for the Golden Hurricane defense for four seasons, registering 321 tackles and 20 quarterback sacks. College Football News selected Byrd as a All-American honorable mention after his senior season, where he had 108 tackles, 11 sacks, and 35 quarterback hurries.[3][4]

The New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL) selected Byrd in the second round of the 1989 NFL Draft, with the hope that he could succeed Mark Gastineau.[5] He played for the Jets as a backup defensive end in a 3–4 defense in 1989, registering seven sacks. The Jets switched to a 4–3 defense in 1990, and Byrd became a defensive tackle that season. Byrd made 13 sacks in 1990 and seven sacks in 1991. He again played as a defensive end in 1992.[6][7] Byrd missed a month of the 1992 season due to a shoulder injury.[8]

Injury and recovery[edit]

Byrd suffered a neck injury during an NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 29, 1992. During the play, he rushed in an attempt to sack Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg, but Krieg stepped up to avoid the tackle, and Byrd collided with Jets teammate Scott Mersereau. He ducked his head at the last moment before he collided with Mersereau's chest.[9] The head-first collision broke his fifth cervical vertebrae and left him unable to walk.[10]

During his recovery, the Jets briefly used an ichthys logo bearing his uniform number, No. 90.[11] After extensive physical therapy, Byrd walked again, but could no longer return to playing football.[12]

Byrd returned to the Meadowlands for the Jets' home opener on September 5, 1993, walking to midfield as an honorary captain for the coin toss. During a halftime ceremony, Jets president Steve Gutman presented him with a trophy for the Most Inspirational Player Award, which would thereafter be called the Dennis Byrd Award.[13]

Later life[edit]

The Jets did not reissue Byrd's No. 90 jersey. The Jets formally retired No. 90 during a half-time ceremony on October 28, 2012, against the Miami Dolphins.[14]

Byrd was the co-author of an autobiographical work titled Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd and the subject of a made-for-television film Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story. Peter Berg played him in the movie.[15]

Byrd spent several years traveling across the country and sharing his life story. He served as defensive line coach at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma and later at Lincoln Christian School in Tulsa. Lincoln Christian's football stadium is named for him. He lived in Tulsa with his wife, the former Angela Hales, and their four children. He was a devout Pentecostal.[16]

During the week leading up to the 2010–11 AFC Divisional matchup between the Jets and the Patriots, Byrd sent Jets' head coach Rex Ryan his tattered, cut up jersey that had been cut from his body on the day of his injury along with an inspirational letter addressed to the Jets. Ryan was so moved by this that he invited him to come out and personally address the team prior to the Patriots game. The inspired Jets carried his jersey to the coin toss prior to the game; the Jets won 28–21.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Byrd was the third child of five born to Dan and Nancy Byrd. He was born in Oklahoma City, but lived in Elk Grove, California, for five years, when Dan worked as a youth minister. Byrd and his wife, Angela, had four children.[2][18]


Byrd was killed at approximately 11:15 a.m. on October 15, 2016, in a two-vehicle collision on Oklahoma State Highway 88 between Claremore and Oologah. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol report, a 17-year-old driver from Claremore veered his Ford Explorer into the oncoming lane, colliding with Byrd's Hummer H2. Byrd was pronounced dead at the scene from massive injuries. His 12-year-old son who was a passenger was also injured in the accident.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b "Former NFL player Dennis Byrd killed in Rogers County crash" (Fox 23 News). October 15, 2016. Retrieved October 16, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Timothy W. (March 12, 1993). "Pro Football; Byrd's Landscape Is Faith and Fortitude". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Averill, Mike (October 15, 2016). "Update: Dennis Byrd, former TU and NY Jets player, killed in crash north of Claremore". Tulsa World. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  4. ^ Smith, Timothy W. (March 12, 1993). "Pro Football; Byrd's Landscape Is Faith and Fortitude". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Jets' Picks Booed". The Hour. Associated Press. April 24, 1989. pp. 23, 26. Retrieved October 16, 2016. 
  6. ^ Litsky, Frank (April 9, 1992). "Football; Another Year, Another Move for Byrd". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  7. ^ Schechter, Alan (October 16, 2016). "New York Jets: Remembering Dennis Byrd, Gone at Age 50". FanSided. Retrieved October 17, 2016. 
  8. ^ Wilner, Barry (December 1, 1992). "Grim reality: Jets' Dennis Byrd might never walk again after Sunday's injury". The Prescott Courier. Associated Press. p. 10A. Retrieved October 17, 2016. 
  9. ^ Smith, Timothy W. (November 30, 1992). "Byrd Is Partly Paralyzed as Jets Fall to Chiefs". The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  10. ^ Smith, Timothy W. (December 3, 1992). "Pro Football; Byrd's Spine Is Stabilized in 7 Hours of Surgery". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  11. ^ Smith, Timothy W. (December 7, 1992). "The Jets Defy All the Odds and Win One for Byrd". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Jets' Dennis Byrd Continues to Inspire". CBS News. January 24, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Byrd Honored at Jets Game". The New York Times. September 6, 1993. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Jets to retire jerseys of Martin, Byrd". Cortland, NY: Fox Sports. Associated Press. July 31, 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Movie Biography of Dennis Byrd Filmed Throughout Oklahoma". The Oklahoman. February 27, 1994. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  16. ^ Brown, Mike (November 29, 2002). "Miracle? Byrd is the word". Tulsa World. Retrieved October 15, 2016. 
  17. ^ Cimini, Rich (January 17, 2011). "Dennis Byrd's speech fueled New York Jets players with extra motivation in Foxborough". Foxborough, Massachusetts: ESPN. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  18. ^ Blau, Max (October 16, 2016). "Dennis Byrd, former New York Jets player, dies in car crash". CNN. Retrieved October 17, 2016.