As we approach the season, we are going to count down the history of Jets jersey numbers along with some of the notable players to wear each number. Today we will look at number 90.
My first memory of the Jets or the NFL came on November 29, 1992. I am sure many of you will never forget it either. Trailing 6-0 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Jets teammates Dennis Byrd and Scott Mersereau collided trying to sack Dave Krieg. Byrd took the brunt of the collision with his head. It fractured his C-5 vertebra. A horrible seven minutes passed as trainers worked on Byrd. He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital paralyzed from the waist down. At the time, it was unclear whether he would ever walk again.
It was the last down Byrd would ever play in the NFL. A fourth year player at the time, he seemed on his way to a really good career. In his second NFL season, he finished sixth in the league with 13 sacks.
The story of Dennis Byrd is not ultimately one of tragedy, however. It is a testament to the powers of faith and what the human spirit can accomplish. Less than three months later, Byrd was walking again to the astonishment of his doctor. He walked onto the field before the Week 1 game of the 1993 season to be embraced by the fans. A year later, he published a book.
In the years that have passed, Byrd has continued to inspire. He has remained a part of the Jets family. Prior to the Playoff game against the Patriots in January 2011, Byrd sent to Rex Ryan the jersey that was cut off his body during that November day in 1992. Rex Ryan asked Byrd to address the team the night before the game. The Jets were big underdogs and had lost to the same opponent on the same field by six touchdowns a few weeks earlier. After hearing about Byrd's journey, playing football at a higher level doesn't seem quite as daunting. The Jets brought that jersey onto the field for the coin toss and upset New England.
In 2012, the Jets retired Byrd's jersey.
Every year the Jets give their most inspirational player the Dennis Byrd Award.
Before I conclude this post, I would like to talk about the way owner Leon Hess responded to Byrd's injury. Just days after the injury, the New York Times published an article wondering whether Hess would support Byrd without a financial obligation. As it turned out, Hess was a frequent visitor to Byrd in the hospital. Hess also honored Byrd's contract and arranged to get his player top medical care. Upon Hess' passing in 1999, Byrd compared the owner to a grandfather. Sometimes tragedy shows us the good in people.