TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Dennis Byrd, the former NFL defensive lineman whose career was ended by neck injury, was killed Saturday in a car accident. He was 50.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Byrd was killed in a two-vehicle collision on Oklahoma 88 north of Claremore.
The Tulsa World first reported Byrd’s death. He starred at Tulsa before playing for the New York Jets
The highway patrol said the crash happened about 11:15 a.m. between Oologah and Claremore. It said a 17-year-old Claremore youth driving a 2000 Ford Explorer northbound on Oklahoma 88 veered into the oncoming lane, striking the 2004 Hummer H2 that Byrd was driving.
Byrd was pronounced dead at the scene, and the 17-year-old driver and a 12-year-old passenger in Byrd’s vehicle were taken in critical condition to Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa.
Byrd was midway through his fourth NFL season when he was briefly paralyzed during a game on Nov. 29, 1992, against Kansas City. He broke his neck after slamming headfirst into the chest of teammate Scott Mersereau as Chiefs quarterback David Krieg stepped forward to avoid a sack.
The impact 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.
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,” which detailed how he relied on his faith and family to push through his injury to recover and serve an inspiration to others who went through similar situations.
Byrd’s story was later made into a made-for-TV movie, with actor-director Peter Berg playing him.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press