Dennis Byrd was an inspiration for far more than anything he ever accomplished on a football field. He was able to walk again. And with each step he took toward recovery from paralysis while guided by his always-present faith, Byrd defied doctors' grim predictions and became a symbol of perseverance and hope. On Saturday, the former NFL defensive lineman whose career was ended by a neck injury, was killed in a car accident, the AP reports. He was 50. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Byrd died in a two-vehicle collision on Oklahoma 88 north of Claremore. The Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Services said the crash happened about 11am between Oologah and Claremore. It said a 17-year-old Claremore youth driving a 2000 Ford Explorer veered into the oncoming lane, striking the 2004 Hummer H2 that Byrd was driving.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Byrd was a second-round draft pick of the Jets in 1989 and quickly became a fan favorite for his intensity on the field as much as his humble, soft-spoken approach off it. He broke his neck after slamming headfirst into the chest of a teammate, leaving him briefly paralyzed. After vigorous rehabilitation, Byrd returned to the Meadowlands for the Jets' opening game the following season and walked—gingerly but unaided—to midfield as an honorary captain. He never fully recovered from the injury, walking with some difficulty and going through continuous rehabilitation during the years since. But Byrd, a devout Christian, wrote a book in 1993 called Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd, which later became a television movie. No Jets player has worn No. 90 since Byrd, and in 2012, the team made him the fifth player in franchise history to have his number retired. The team gives an award in Byrd's name to the most inspirational player every year, notes the New York Times. "I learned to be a man in Oklahoma," Byrd said at the time, "and I grew to be a man in New York." (Read more paralysis stories.)