FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets carried Dennis Byrd’s jersey to midfield before their playoff victory in New England.
This Sunday, Byrd will walk with the Jets players as their honorary captain for the coin toss before the AFC championship game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
“It’s just fitting for him to be our captain,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said Wednesday. “I’m proud that he is. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The former Jets defensive end’s career ended in 1992, when he collided with teammate Scott Mersereau in a game against Kansas City, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. Three months after breaking the critical C5 vertebra in his neck, he walked on crutches to a news conference at his hospital in Manhattan.
Before the home opener the following season, he walked out to midfield on his own for the coin toss, as the crowd at the Meadowlands gave him a standing ovation.
Byrd recently sent coach Rex Ryan the No. 90 jersey that was torn from his torso more than 18 years ago as an inspirational gift, and it hung in the Jets’ locker room during their 28-21 victory over the Patriots last Sunday.
Byrd gave a moving speech the night before the game at the team hotel, something wide receiver called “the most inspirational message of my life.” LaDainian Tomlinson and James Ihedigbo carried out a green and white No. 90 jersey to midfield for the coin toss.
“Hearing about his story for the first time really makes you understand how fortunate we are and how fragile your career is,” Sanchez said. “These moments you have on the plane, hanging around in the locker room, having fun with guys, going to eat, playing on the field, it’s pretty special. It can end at any moment. That was just a good reminder for us of how fortunate we are.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)