The New York Jets improbable victory against the Patriots this past weekend all started with a vision and a passionate speech from a former Jet. Dennis Byrd, the former Jets defensive lineman whose career ended after colliding with a teammate and breaking the C-5 vertebra in his neck, sent his old, torn jersey, the one that was cut from his body more than 18 years ago, to Rex Ryan as a gift. Ryan then took that jersey and hung up in the Jets locker room and asked Byrd to come give a motivational speech to the team the night before the game.
Ryan, who normally addresses the team the night before games, took a step back that night and showed highlights of Byrd’s career and allowed the former Jet himself to speak. Byrd then gave an emotional, stirring speech about how he would trade anything he could just for one more play, and urged the players to seize the moment because any play could be their last play. Most of the players knew of Byrd’s story but weren’t aware that within three months of his accident, he was walking on crutches after doctors didn’t think he would be able to walk again. That emotional story, along with a solid game plan, was enough motivation for the team to rise to the challenge and defeat New England The Jets’ Most Inspirational Player Award is named in Byrd’s honor, and LaDainian Tomlinson won it this season, and joined XX Sports Radio in San Diego to talk about what the feeling was like walking off Gillette Field victorious, what Dennis Byrd said to the team that got their attention, and the way their defense played and how they went after Tom Brady.
What the feeling was like walking off Gillette Field victorious:
“Oh my goodness, I really can’t. I’m kind of in a state of shock to be honest with you that the seconds ticked down. Something interesting went through my mind, obviously you guys have heard Dennis Byrd talked to us, a former great Jet who got paralyzed 18 years ago in a game, but he talked to us the night before. It was like he had a vision already, he knew it. He said, ‘I can’t wait until the seconds tick down and the Jets are about to win the game.’ For some reason I thought about that as the seconds ticked down and watching the guys reaction. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
How many players knew Dennis Byrd and his story when he walked in to give the speech:
“I don’t know if guys knew the whole story but we have this award on our team. It’s the Dennis Byrd Inspiration Award, which I won this year. I would be happy to say that it is a great honor to win that. Obviously we see this award. It describes a little bit about what he meant to the team but I don’t think, to hear him put it to us the way he did about his story and laying on that field. He brought his jersey back that they cut off of him that day.”
What Dennis Byrd said to the team that got their attention:
“Well let me just say this. He said a whole bunch of stuff that was meaningful, but I think what guys saw in his eyes, and his struggle, and his passion, that is what stuck out. Everybody in that room listening to him because he walked up there, and being paralyzed, walked up there with his jersey and then just sharing with us, and then the passion that he had just… That is what stood out for all of us I think, more than, obviously he said some great things. It just stays in that room but I think that was the biggest thing for us.”
On the way their defense played and how they went after Tom Brady:
“Them guys, I will tell you what. They played unbelievable. To be in this position, to be here, where we are going into the AFC Championship game, you got to have a good defense. You have got to have a great defense to be able to stop people. Offenses are too good in this league and people score, but the way those guys executed the game plan, Coach Rex, Mike Pettine, and all of them guys put together a heck of a game plan but them guys executed, and the thing I saw, you know when Tom Brady is on you see him drop back and pump the ball one time and the ball is gone. When he started to pat that ball two and three times and couldn’t find nobody, and then when they did get to him and then drop back again, he would think somebody was kind of around him and he would kind of fluster him. I have never seen Tom Brady like that, never. That was just a tremendous job by our defense.”