In the 1989 NFL Draft, the Jets doubled down on their investment in the defensive line, grabbing Virginia DE Jeff Lageman with the 14th pick and Tulsa DE Dennis Byrd with the 42nd pick. While Lageman proved to be a solid starter for six years, it was Byrd who quickly distinguished himself.
On October 9, 1989, Byrd would record his first career sack in a forgettable loss to the Oakland Raiders. The low-scoring, high-turnover affair would become the norm for the Jets over the next half-decade, but it proved to be the start of a breakout rookie season for Byrd.
Thanks to 5.0 more sacks he recorded in the last 5 games of the season, Byrd finished his rookie campaign with a rookie record 7.0 sacks in the otherwise lost season for the rest of the team.
Byrd's sophomore season in Green and White would prove much more fruitful even as wins continued to prove elusive for the Jets. He led the team in sacks and recorded a career-high 13.0 as the Jets went 6-10 that year.
The 13.0 sacks Byrd would record in the 1990 season were the 4th most for any Jet since sacks became a statistic, and the mark has only been matched once in the 25+ years since (John Abraham, 2001).
In 1991, Byrd notched another 7.0 sacks while Lageman led the team with 10.0 as a revitalized Ken O'Brien helped lead the team to an 8-8 record and their first playoff appearance in five years (and last for another seven years...).
The Jets returned to their losing ways in 1992 as Byrd went through an 8-game sack-free slump.
On November 29, 1992, Byrd finally ended his sack drought by dropping Kansas City Chiefs QB Dave Krieg. Unfortunately, it would be the last sack of his career.
Later in the game, Byrd collided headfirst into fellow DE Scott Mersereau on an ill-fated tackle attempt, breaking a major vertebra that left him paralyzed and abruptly ended a promising football career.
The story of Dennis Byrd the Football Player ended that day in November, but the story of Dennis Byrd the Person remains one of the most inspiring in all of sports.
Less than one year later, after months of aggressive physical therapy, Byrd overcame the odds to walk onto the football field again to serve as the Jets' honorary captain for the 1993 home opener.
Byrd's #90 jersey was never issued again after his injury and was finally retired by the team on October 28, 2012.
Before the New York Jets' 2010-11 AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Foxborough against the New England Patriots, Byrd sent the jersey that was cut from his body after the injury to the team, to inspire them to overcome the long odds placed against them in a battle with the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
In the decades since, Byrd has become a motivational speaker and symbol of the Jets' perseverance. At the end of every Jets season, the 'Dennis Byrd Award' is given to the "Most Inspirational Player" in tribute to his incredible fighting spirit.
The Jets took that jersey to the coin toss before trouncing their arch-rivals in enemy territory in one of the greatest victories in franchise history.
And to think, the most remarkable tale of perhaps the most remarkable man to ever wear the Green and White truly began with a simple hit on a quarterback on October 9, 1989.