This past Sunday, October 28, 2012 Dennis Byrd, former New York Jets defensive end, walked onto the field at MetLife Stadium to have his No. 90 jersey retired. On this day he became just the 5th Jet player in the history of the franchise to receive this highest honor joining the ranks of immortal icons Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin (my favorite Jet player of all time).
Dennis Byrd received this honor not for his accolades on the playing field, but rather his will to make the impossible possible and walk again after being paralyzed during a game some twenty years ago on November 29, 1992 when he broke his neck while slamming head first into a teammate during an afternoon home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
This was a game my father and I (who was just 9 years old at the time) just happened to attend.
I remember this particular game vividly mostly because of the injury that occurred, but also because of the reaction of the crowd after the actual hit took place. What stands out most to me was the silence that overcame the Meadowlands after the whistle blew. As a kid growing up my dad took me to games all the time and I can remember how loud the stadium always was. But on this particular day right after Dennis Byrd’s body fell to the ground the stadium fell absolutely silent; like 80,000 people were holding their breath. Although I was only nine years old at the time I remember knowing that something very serious had just happened.
Dennis Byrd was not a star player; he didn’t have a huge contract and endorsement deals, in fact before his accident I don’t think I even knew what position he played. However, after he was paralyzed there was naturally a huge media following as to his recovery and whether he would walk again.
And walk he did. What makes Dennis Byrd so special is that against all odds, in the face of the toughest adversity imaginable, he overcame an injury that nobody thought he could ever recover from.
The story of Dennis Byrd, like many heroes throughout history, is one which embodies the undying human spirit and a true will to succeed. It is people like Dennis Byrd who are the reason why parents tell their children “you can do anything you put your mind to.”
So why am I writing a blog about this incredible human being? Well it started about three weeks ago at our office when we received a call from the mother of Desmond, a former client, telling us that her son had been involved in a horrific motorcycle accident and was in the hospital. His prognosis being that he was paralyzed from the waist down.
The next day to our surprise we received a call at our office from Desmond wanting to speak to my father, who he knew well from a previous personal injury lawsuit that we had represented him for. After talking to him, my father came out of his office, clearly holding back tears, but also flashing a surprisingly optimistic smile like he had just heard something that had deeply resonated with him.
Desmond, a young man who had just been paralyzed and had nearly lost his life, told my father without a hint of doubt in his voice that he would walk again. After finishing his conversation with Desmond my dad knocked on my door and began telling me the story of what had just happened, but before he could finish I instantly knew we were both thinking the same exact thing…Dennis Byrd.
In fact, the last thing my dad told Desmond before hanging up the phone was that there was a player on the Jets who had been paralyzed and when this player was injured there was nobody, including my father, who ever thought that he would walk again. My dad went on to tell him how Dennis Byrd, a man who had shattered a vertebrae and was paralyzed from the waist down just like Desmond, proved the world wrong and did in fact walk again.
It could be fate, irony, or perhaps just coincidence that less than three weeks after Desmond’s accident the Jets would bestow their highest honor to Dennis Byrd as a tribute to his astounding life and accomplishments.
To say that Desmond’s road will be long and hard is an understatement, but as long as there are the Dennis Byrd’s of the world there will be hope for people like Desmond to overcome some of life’s toughest obstacles and become living examples that miracles can happen through hard work, dedication, will and maybe even a little luck.