FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Dennis Byrd - a man who truly defined the words strength, bravery and courage - was killed in an automobile accident Saturday near his home in Oklahoma. Byrd was 50 years old. He leaves behind his wife, Angela, and four children.
The Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Services said the crash happened at about 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
Byrd was driving southbound on Oklahoma Highway 88 when another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction veered into his lane and collided with the former Jet's 2004 Hummer H2.
The other car - a 2000 Ford Explorer - was driven by a 17-year old boy. He and a 12-year old boy who traveled with Byrd was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa. Both are in critical condition.
The former defensive end was drafted by New York in the second round of the 1989 NFL Draft. He quickly became a legendary figure in the Jets community not only for his strong play on the field - 28 sacks in four seasons - but also his showcase of strength that has inspired individuals across the nation.
"We are all devastated by the untimely loss of Dennis Byrd," said Jets owner Woody Johnson. "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. His impact on the New York Jets and the many lives he touched will never be forgotten."
Byrd's story is nothing short of a miracle. In a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 29, 1992, the Tulsa alum collided headfirst with Jets teammate Scott Mersereau. The collision caused severe damage to Byrd's neck and spinal cord. Doctors feared the football player would never be able to walk again.
He fought and fought. Finally - after many arduous months of rehabilitation - Byrd fought one more time back on the field that saw his career end. The next season he was invited as an honorary captain in the home opener and walked carefully to midfield without support.
Over the years, Byrd's walking ability improved and more fans watched in awe. He made motivational speeches, became even more involved around the community and was rewarded with a jersey retirement ceremony in 2012 by the organization. Nobody will ever wear number 90 - and rightfully so.
We were inspired. His story etched it's mark on our lives. Even if you were too young to remember or simply were not around to experience it live, fans everywhere knew about Dennis Byrd, the man he was, and the strength and character he showed everyday.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (Joebarone28@gmail.com)