TULSA, Okla., Oct. 16 (UPI) — Former New York Jets player Dennis Byrd, who was paralyzed on the field in 1992, was killed in a car wreck Saturday outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Byrd, 50, a towering 6-foot-five-inch defensive lineman, served as an inspiration to many after he learned to walk again in less than a year after he became paralyzed, CNN reported.
“We are all devastated by the untimely loss of Dennis Byrd,” New York Jets Owner Woody Johnson said in a statement late Saturday. “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.”
Byrd was driving northbound on State Highway 88 Saturday morning outside of Claremore, Oklahoma, 30 miles from Tulsa when another vehicle driven by a 17-year-old, veered in to his lane, colliding head-on with Byrd’s Hummer H2, NFL.com reported.
The teen driver was admitted to the hospital in stable condition. He sustained head, trunk, arm, and leg injuries. His 12-year-old passenger sustained similar injuries, authorities said.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the cause of the collision is still under investigation
Whiile playing for the Jets, Byrd suffered a fractured vertebra in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in November 1992.
Byrd surprised and inspired everyone, including his doctors, when he walked again within weeks after doctors said he would never walk again.
The following year, Byrd walked to midfield as an honorary captain for the home opener. The Jets retired Byrd’s No. 90 jersey in 2012.
The 270-pounder played four seasons with the Jets from 1989 to 1992 He was also a four-year starter at the University of Tulsa from 1984 to 1988.
As news of Byrd’s death broke late Saturday, NFL players and others expressed their condolences.
Former New York Jets lineman Kevin Mawae tweeted about it, describing Byrd as “an inspiration to many” due to his ability to overcome his on-field injuries.
“Saddened to hear of tragic death of @nyjets Dennis Byrd, condolences to his family. He was an inspiration to many!” Mawae tweeted.
“Dennis exemplified true determination, tremendous heart, and humility throughout his life,” Dr. Derrick Gragg, vice president and director of athletics at the University of Tulsa, said. “He overcame great personal adversity after a life-altering injury on the football field. We know that Dennis touched numerous lives and will be missed by many.”