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.
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.