Fighting back tears and surrounded by some of his former teammates, Dennis Byrd walked to the middle of the MetLife Stadium field as his No. 90 jersey was retired by the New York Jets.
Byrd, briefly paralyzed 20 years ago in a game against Kansas City, became the fifth former Jets player to receive the honor Sunday, joining Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin.
”What an amazing honor,” Byrd told the fans, nearly all of them standing. ”Thank you so much.”
Before the game, Byrd was introduced as the final member of New York’s defense, walking out of the tunnel as his name was announced and greeted by the entire team in the end zone. A fired-up Byrd could be seen on the stadium video board addressing the players who were huddled around him.
He stood on the sideline during the national anthem and walked arm-in-arm with center Nick Mangold to midfield as the honorary captain for the coin toss.
Byrd was injured Nov. 29, 1992, when he broke his neck after slamming headfirst into the chest of teammate Scott Mersereau against Kansas City when quarterback David Krieg stepped forward to avoid a sack. After a vigorous rehabilitation, Byrd returned to the Meadowlands for the opener the following season and walked to midfield as an honorary captain.
Mersereau was among the former teammates to join Byrd at halftime, as well as Freeman McNeil, Bill Pickel and Marty Lyons. Mersereau introduced Byrd to the crowd, saying the most touching moment of his life came when he visited Byrd in the hospital and his teammate, unable to walk, told him ”Angie and I have been worried about you.”
With his wife and their four children watching from a few feet away, Byrd, wearing a green No. 90 jersey, told the fans about how much his teammates meant to him and how they and his family have helped him recover. He still walks gingerly and recently said he still has some frustrating days, but is getting better every day.
”I learned to be a man in Oklahoma,” Byrd said, ”and I grew to be a man in New York.”