It has been 20 years since Dennis Byrd was carted from the field at Giants Stadium, briefly paralyzed from the neck down. No New York Jets player has worn his No. 90 since that accident — and none ever will.
Byrd’s jersey is being retired Sunday at halftime of the game against the Miami Dolphins. A fan favorite since his playing days, Byrd will walk onto the field at MetLife Stadium in what is sure to be an emotional moment.
“It’s just a tremendous honor to be recognized by the Jets to have that number retired,” Byrd said. “I have been given a great blessing of not just having the admiration of fans, but their kindness, love and compassion.”
Byrd was injured on Nov. 29, 1992, when he broke his neck after slamming headfirst into the chest of teammate Scott Mersereau as Kansas City quarterback David Krieg stepped forward to avoid a sack. After a vigorous rehabilitation, Byrd returned to the Meadowlands for the opener the following season and walked to midfield as an honorary captain.
He wrote about his story in an autobiography called “Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd,” and was the subject of a made-for-TV film.
“There are times that are obviously very frustrating and progress can be painfully slow,” Byrd said. “But as time goes on, I continue to get better. The odd thing is that an injury I had 20 years ago, there are still encouraging signs of recovery.”
The 46-year-old Byrd has kept up with his former team over the years. He gave an inspirational speech to the Jets — and presented them with the No. 90 jersey that was cut off his body the day he was injured — the night before New York’s playoff victory over New England two years ago.
“When I saw (the jersey), I couldn’t believe it,” coach Rex Ryan recalled. “I was extremely proud that he identified with that Jets team. … I think every player was touched by his comments.”
The team also presents an annual award named in his honor to its most inspirational player.
Byrd lives on a ranch in Oklahoma with his wife Angela and their four kids, staying active by taking care of the 100-acre area as well as fishing and hunting regularly.
“My life is still full and rich and still getting better,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I don’t mean to make this an episode of ‘Hillbilly Life.'”
Byrd joins a short list of former Jets to have their numbers retired, including Joe Namath, Curtis Martin, Don Maynard and Joe Klecko. Byrd chose to wear the No. 90 in the NFL as a tribute to his older brother Dan.
“I made that number mine for the four years that I played in New York,” Byrd said. “Those things become special. They’re your colors, your stripes and your number.”
RG3 THE GAMER: Like many NFL players, Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III likes to decompress by playing video games. Unlike many peers, he prefers the non-football sort to the ever-popular Madden NFL franchise, just to get to away from his sport.
Still, he says Madden does have its benefits.
“I play Madden during the season if I want to see how a certain play works out, because some of the plays on Madden are real,” he said. “And I’m horrible on defense, so that’s why I play offense. I can score a lot; I just can’t stop anybody.”
Sounds a lot like this year’s Redskins.
TEZ TIME: Because of his history of personal fouls at Arizona State and a poor showing at the NFL combine, linebacker Vontaze Burfict didn’t get drafted. He’s showing his other side with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Burfict had 16 tackles, 14 solo, during a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, both team highs for the season. He’s gotten to start the last five games at outside linebacker because of injury.
Coach Marvin Lewis said he makes mistakes, but can make up for them with his ability to get to whoever has the ball.
“He had some errors, but he did do some good things,” Lewis said. “He runs around, flies around, and he makes a lot of tackles. That’s part of playing linebacker. You can give the guy a minus (in some areas), but at the end of the day, it’s your job to get the football on the ground, and he does a good job of that.”
Burfict is second on the team with 62 tackles, getting double-digit totals in four of his five starts. He has led the team in tackles three times.
After his poor combine, Burfict wrote letters to NFL general managers and coaches asking for a chance. He was still available when the draft ended, and the Bengals were interested.
“Undrafted,” Burfict said. “I’m going to take it like that. It just gives me the courage to go out every day, wake up every morning, just to come here and just be thankful that I’m here.”
OFFENSIVE OFFENSE: Despite having several dynamic playmakers on offense, the Philadelphia Eagles simply can’t score. They’re ranked 30th in the NFL with an average of 17.2 points per game. That’s the worst they’ve been since Andy Reid came to Philadelphia in 1999. Under Reid, they were among the top 10 eight times in 13 seasons until now.
The problem has been turnovers. The Eagles are tied for second most in the league with 17 giveaways, including five inside the opponents’ 20. Michael Vick has 13 of those turnovers on eight interceptions and five fumbles.
“Turnovers. It’s as simple as that,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said when asked why the Eagles aren’t putting up more points. “We’re 25th in the red zone. That’s where you score your points at, so it’s just turnovers.”
With Vick, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, two-time Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson, Maclin and tight end Brent Celek, the Eagles have plenty of firepower on offense. All they have to do is protect the ball.
“Just the amount of turnovers and being more consistent,” McCoy said. “It’s hard to make progress on offense when you’re getting negative yards, penalties, and things like that.”
BRINGING UP THE REAR: Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was asked if his teammates had forgotten Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ off-color proclamation that Dallas would, um, beat New York’s tail at Cowboys Stadium this season.
Jones declared on the opening day of training camp in California that his team would end a three-game losing streak to the Giants that spans the life of Cowboys Stadium. That includes the first regular-season game in the $1 billion-plus palace in 2009.
“I don’t play Jerry,” Tuck said. “If you want to put Jerry in the lineup, then I’ll welcome that. I don’t think Jerry’s going to do any kicking of my posterior.”
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Rob Maaddi, and Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., Joe Kay, Schuyler Dixon and Joseph White contributed to this story.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.