CBSN

Jets' Dennis Byrd Continues to Inspire

Dennis Byrd
CBS
Former Jets player Dennis Byrd was paralyzed during a collision in 1992, but he didn't let that interfere with his love for the game and giving back to his team.

"Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge visited him in Tulsa, Okla.

Wragge reported Byrd's accident happened on Nov. 29, 1992. The New York Jets were facing the Kansas City Chiefs in a relatively uneventful game when 23 seconds into the third quarter -- No. 90, defensive end Dennis Byrd -- crashed into a teammate.

Byrd was rushed to the hospital, where he learned he had suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Wragge asked Byrd, "Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would walk again?"

"No," Byrd replied. "I knew just immediately that it wasn't will I be able to walk again, but that there was a lot of work."

Through extensive physical therapy and unbending perseverance, Byrd began to regain control of his legs. And just one year later, he walked back into The Meadowlands for the Jets' home opener.

Byrd said, "Knowing the journey of the hardest year of my life and for it to end and culminate in that moment was for me so special."

Byrd went home to Tulsa, here he resumed a low-profile. For years, his No. 90 jersey -- the jersey cut from his body on the day of his career-ending injury -- sat on a shelf in his home.

When asked if it was tough to look at his jersey on daly-after-day, year-after-year, Byrd answered, "It's not hard to look at a jersey. The jersey, to me, was symbolic of so many things. All of the effort, the work, the sacrifice that it took to get to the point to earn that jersey."

Last week, Byrd's beloved Jets prepared for a playoff game against their biggest rival, the heavily-favored New England Patriots. In an effort to give them a boost, Byrd took that jersey off his shelf and sent it to Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

"It blew me away," Ryan said of receiving the jersey. "I thought, 'Wow man, this is incredible, it's such a honor."'

Ryan was so moved by the gesture he asked Byrd to visit the team. And the night before the game, Byrd stood before them.

Byrd said, "It was for them to understand the importance of the moment, as well as to understand the true gift of what they have as athletes."

"I told them, 'Make tomorrow that day,"' he said. "'Make today that day' that I look back on and would trade everything that I had for one more game and one more play."

"And it worked," Wragge said.

"And it worked," Byrd said.

The team hung Byrd's jersey in the locker room on game day. With his message still echoing in their heads, the Jets defeated the Patriots and continued their playoff run.

"Why this year did you decide to reach out to these guys and be a part of this run?" Wragge said.

Byrd replied, "The simplest answer is, it was time and I knew that this was the moment. "

Wragge noted, last night, as the Jets faced the Pittsburgh Steelers for a chance to go to the Super Bowl, Byrd walked with his team once again as their honorary captain. And while the Jets were defeated 24-19, they played valiantly and never gave up, which is all No. 90 could ask for.

"For four years, to run up and down that field and do the thing that I absolutely adored doing, that is so special to me," Byrd said. "For that number to be seen as an inspirational number, I gotta tell you something: I still am that kid, 26-years-old, running up and down the field living his dream."