Dennis Byrd, a former New York Jets defensive end whose career was cut short in 1992 due to a broken neck, was killed in a head-on vehicle collision Saturday near his home in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol confirmed to ESPN.
Byrd, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene due to massive injuries, according to reports.
Byrd, who was driving a Hummer H2, was struck by a vehicle that was traveling northbound on Oklahoma 88 and veered into his lane. The other car was driven by a 17-year-old.
The 17-year-old driver and a 12-year-old passenger in Byrd’s car, both in critical condition, were transported to a Tulsa hospital.
Byrd, a second-round pick of the Jets in 1989, became a legendary player in Jets history. He played only four years, but his inspirational story became the subject of a book and a TV movie.
On Nov. 29, 1992, Byrd collided with teammate Scott Mersereau in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Byrd suffered extensive damage to his neck and spinal cord, and doctors weren’t sure if he would walk again.
A few weeks later, Byrd held a news conference at a New York hospital, walking with the aid of a cane. The following season, his No. 90 was retired by the Jets.
After a brief career as a motivational speaker and a TV analyst for CBS, Byrd retired to a quiet life in Oklahoma, staying out of the spotlight. He was able to walk, albeit with a pronounced limp.
He made a surprise appearance for the 2010 divisional playoffs, addressing the Jets on the eve of their game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The next day, Byrd served as an honorary captain. The Jets stunned the Patriots for one of the biggest wins in franchise history, with several players crediting Byrd for inspiring them with his speech.