FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A master of motivation, Rex Ryan may have saved his most motivating ploy for a time that couldn’t have been better. Leading up to the eventual 28-21 victory over the New England Patriots, Ryan came out and publically stated that this match-up would be personal. He took jabs at the Patriots, while giving endless praise to his players and team. But on the eve of their divisional round match-up, in their Providence hotel, Ryan brought in Dennis Byrd to give for a last-second speech to re-focus his team with their pre-season goal.
What he said wasn’t your traditional rah-rah speech. Forget Gene Hackman in Hoosiers. That’s not Byrd’s style. Instead Byrd told the Jets players about his life. He spoke to the magnitude of this game and making the most off an opportunity when it presents itself. Because, he of all people know that nothing is ever guaranteed.
Drafted in the second round in 1989 by the Jets, Byrd recorded 20 sacks and 110 tackles in his first two seasons with the team as a defensive end and tackle. In a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Byrd attempted to sack quarterback Dave Krieg, but Krieg stepped up to aboid the tackle, and Byrd collided with Jets teammate Scott Mersereau. Byrd ducked his head at the last moment before he collided with Mersereau’s chest. The head-first collision resulted in a broken C-5 vertebra that left him unable to walk for a period of time. That would be his final play.
“It was one of the most special of those priceless moments, a convergence of events. I wanted them to know these moments don’t come around very often. I wanted them to know this is it. It’s now,” Byrd said.
There wasn’t a soul in the room who didn’t get his message.
“You could hear a pin drop,” owner Woody Johnson said. “He let everyone know what it meant to be a Jet. Santonio Holmes stood up first and game him a standing ovation. He was inspirational.”
Holmes’ receiving mate, Braylon Edwards (2 receptions for 57 yards, 1 TD), took his words to heart and was just one of the many players who felt truly inspired by the words from the former Jet.
“After he spoke, I really couldn’t sleep last night. I was chomping at the bit to play [on Sunday],” Edwards said. “All I can hear in the back of my mind is [Byrd saying], ‘I would trade anything for one play’. He didn’t say another season. He didn’t say one game. He said ‘I would trade anything in this world for one play.’ You know what one play is? That lasts maybe six seconds. He’d trade his whole life in for six seconds. That’s all it took for every guy in that locker room [Saturday].”
Edwards would go on to say that he felt Byrd’s presence and the power of his words on the field.
“[My touchdown reception] was one of those plays where Mark put the ball on me, I caught it and I just felt Dennis Byrd and I was going into the endzone. I’m not trying to get cheesy or anything like that, but it’s honest. I felt his spirit and the things he talked about [Saturday night], the really showed up on that play.”
Ryan then invited the former Jet on the sidelines for the game, giving Byrd an opportunity to send one more message. After holding on to the jersey that was cut from body on that frightful day in 1992, Byrd gave it back to the Jets as it accompanied the team captains to the center of the field for the coin flip.
“It’s been on my heart for a long time to send the jersey back. They had honored me by not re-issuing that number and it’s a great honor. I wanted to return it and let it be what it is. [The Jets] have been in my heart for a long time. [Green and white] are the only colors I’ve ever worn,” Byrd said, who kept the jersey in his Tulsa, Oklahoma home.
As much of an inspiration Byrd was for his former team, something tells me the Jets returned the favor with last night’s victory over the Patriots.
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