Dennis Byrd, the former Jets defensive lineman with one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history, was killed Saturday in a two-car collision near his Oklahoma home.
He was 50.
Byrd was best known for how he responded when his promising career came to an end Nov. 29, 1992, against the Kansas City Chiefs.
That day at Giants Stadium, Byrd collided with teammate Scott Mersereau while trying to make a sack. Byrd, then in his fourth NFL season, suffered a fractured vertebrae and damage to his spinal cord. Doctors weren’t sure if he’d walk again.
But within months, Byrd had defied the odds. No one has worn No. 90 since Byrd — his number was retired in a 2012 ceremony.
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His remarkable story was the subject of the television movie Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story.
The crash happened late Saturday morning when a 17-year old driving a 2000 Ford Explorer crossed the center line and hit a 2004 Hummer H2 driven by Byrd, according to multiple reports.
Byrd was pronounced dead at the scene due to massive injuries.
The driver of the other vehicle and a 12-year-old passenger in Byrd’s vehicle were transported to a local hospital in critical condition.
In 2011, Byrd helped inspire the Jets to one of their most impressive postseason wins.
Statement from Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg on the death of former football player Dennis Byrd: pic.twitter.com/0JVY4tM2ON— Kelly Hines (@KellyHinesTW) October 16, 2016
Then-coach Rex Ryan had Byrd speak to the team the night before a playoff game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. The next day, the Jets stunned the Patriots — with several players saying Byrd’s speech played a key role.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Byrd, who starred at the University of Tulsa, was killed on state Highway 88 north of Claremore.
The highway patrol said the crash happened about 11:15 a.m.
The impact in the Kansas City game broke the C-5 vertebra in Byrd’s neck, leaving him unable to walk for a few weeks. After a vigorous rehabilitation, Byrd returned to the Meadowlands for the Jets’ opening game the following season and walked to midfield as an honorary captain.
Andy Vasquez writes for The Bergen Record, part of the USA TODAY Network. Contributing: Associated Press.