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'He Has the Strength'
Peter King
December 14, 1992
Dennis Byrd of the Jets lies partially paralyzed in a New York hospital, fighting the odds—as he has so often helped others to do
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December 14, 1992

'he Has The Strength'

Dennis Byrd of the Jets lies partially paralyzed in a New York hospital, fighting the odds—as he has so often helped others to do

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"This is something that happened that we will never, ever, ever forget," Coslet told his players when they returned to practice on Dec. 2. "But we have to go on." In Byrd's honor a decal with his number 90 overlaying an ichthus, the outline of a fish that is an ancient symbol of Christianity, was affixed to every Jet helmet. And the players heard these words from Coslet as they left the visitors' locker room at Buffalo's Rich Stadium: "Dennis is watching, so let's play hard."

New York did better than that; it won 24-17. Jet safety Brian Washington stepped in front of a weak Jim Kelly pass with 1:41 left and returned the interception 23 yards for the winning touchdown. "When I was getting mobbed in the end zone," Washington said after the game, "all I could think of was Dennis." Back at Lenox Hill, all Byrd could think of was his teammates. He was scheduled to be taken for X-rays midway through the fourth quarter, but he made the technicians wait until the game ended and thus was able to see the winning play.

Washington called it a Hollywood ending and then paused. "No," he said, "it'll be a Hollywood ending when Dennis takes his first step." When the Jets returned to New York on Sunday night, team president Steve Gutman presented Byrd with the game ball.

Many times when his family, teammates and coaches have visited Byrd in the hospital, they have come away feeling as if their spirits had been lifted. "We go in there wanting to help him," says Blanchard, "and he ends up helping us more."

Byrd says he has drawn strength from the Biblical verse, written in black marker on white cardboard, that is hanging from the ceiling of his room at Lenox Hill. It's the first thing he sees whenever he wakes up—Romans 8:18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

Even President-elect Bill Clinton, who phoned Byrd last Friday to express his hope for the player's future, was treated to Byrd's selfless attitude. "You're the one with all the problems," Byrd told Clinton. "All I've got to do is get out of bed and walk." And there was increasing hope that one day he would do just that. Over the weekend Byrd was able to flex the quad muscle in his right leg, move both feet and wiggle his right toes. He has limited movement in both arms, and he can work the TV remote control with his right hand. But there are many trials and more tears ahead.

In the ambulance that was taking him to Lenox Hill during the critical moments after he was injured, Byrd tearlessly told Angela that he understood he wasn't going to play football anymore. He said all he wanted to be able to do was hold his girls again.

"We'll hold you," Angela said.

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