Former NFL player Dennis Byrd: 'You don't quit. You don't say quit.'
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Quitting is never an option. That's one message worshipers at a Baton Rouge church were left with Sunday, after a former NFL player spoke in front of hundreds.
Dennis Byrd, a former New York Jet, has not played football in 22 years. He suffered a career-ending injury in 1992.
While he still loves the game, he says it's the lessons he learned from his family that took him farther than the game ever could.
Byrd's parents attend HeartsEase Family Life Church on Florida Boulevard. At the request of church staff, Byrd spoke on Super Bowl Sunday hoping to leave churchgoers with a challenge to persevere and never give up.
"They just kept telling us every day, he'd never walk again," said Byrd's mother, Nancy. "I just kept saying, no, he will walk again."
Byrd's father, Dan, says in November 1992, they got a call from their daughter-in-law telling them their son had been in a serious accident.
"We didn't see the game. We were here in Louisiana, so we got the Saints game. We didn't get the Jets," Byrd's father said.
That day, Dennis Byrd, who had come to be known as the sack master, was attempting a play on the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs. Byrd ran into his own teammate and hit the ground.
"I'm laying on my back and I begin to lift my head off the field to try and get up and I feel the bones in my neck crack and crunch and dislocate," Byrd said.
He was carted off the field, his jersey had to be cut off his back. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Doctors were convinced he would never walk again. Byrd says when his coaches and teammates visited in the hospital his spirits were fine. It's when he was alone with his thoughts that discouragement set in, as he realized the game he loved he would never be able to play again.
"I can't do this. It's too hard, but I don't know how to quit," Byrd said.
He says quitting was never something he was allowed to growing up. His family never let him.
"You don't give up," Dan Byrd said. "Whenever he was playing high school ball and he wanted to quit, it was no you don't give up."
Laying in his hospital bed, Byrd said he could hear those words from his father, but he also heard another voice.
"This is the only time in my life that I ever remember hearing an audible voice of God. The Lord said to me, be strong my son, you will walk again."
That, he said, let him know his journey had another step.
Months of intense physical therapy followed, but Byrd did eventually walk.
"For the first 16 to 17 years, I did not use a cane or walking stick ... I was mostly normal, had a pronounced limp."
What got him through the hard times, he says, was the one thing he repeatedly heard as a child growing up, that quitting was never an option.
"You don't quit. You don't say quit. You don't say you're done. You don't say no more. You just keep going."
Byrd's father says even after his sons injury, it was at least four years before he and his wife could enjoy another football game.
"Even today, when we see a young man being taken from the field we still get emotional. For another mom, another dad that's going through the same thing. We just pray for them and say don't give up, your miracles on it's way."
The Jets retired Byrd's jersey, the same jersey cut off him the day of the accident, in 2012.
Byrd says he still continues to recover. He says five years ago, muscles in his hips and back and lower left leg began to awaken.
Byrd now lives in a small Oklahoma town, with his wife and four children.
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