Jets from top on down are touched by Byrd's spirit Owner, players, staff amazed by positive outlook

December 04, 1992|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Leon Hess stepped off the elevator and onto the eighth floor of Lenox Hill Hospital. It was 7:25 last night, and the seldom-seen owner of the New York Jets was accompanied by team orthopedist Elliott Hershman, rookie tackle Siupeli Malamala and conditioning coach Greg Mackrides.

Hershman led the other three men into the intensive-care unit, where defensive end Dennis Byrd was recuperating a little more than 24 hours after spinal surgery. Byrd remains paralyzed from the waist down, with only partial movement in his arms and hands, but he offered a taste of his indomitable spirit by conveying this message to Mackrides:

"Let everybody know I'm going to be OK. Tell 'em I'm going to beat this."

When Hess emerged from his 15-minute visit, he appeared to be wallowing in helplessness. Sadly, no amount of oil in the world can guarantee Byrd will ever walk again.

"I just told him, 'Here I am,' " Hess said by the eighth-floor elevators. "All we can do is hope and pray. He's such a beautiful man. His faith is remarkable."

Malamala said, "He's in great spirits. He's handling it well. He sounds well."

Mackrides added: "It's amazing how positive Dennis is. All he asked about was how my [heavily bandaged] finger is, like that's a big deal. And he asked, 'How are the guys?' He can't wait to speak to them tomorrow."

The Jets planed to set up a conference call sometime today to Byrd.

At Byrd's side throughout the day was his pregnant wife, Angela. His parents also have been a constant. Jets president Steve Gutman made an afternoon visit, and tight end Mark Boyer, his wife, Janna, and public relations director Frank Ramos came by early in the evening.

A few minutes after his arrival, Malamala rushed back down to his car so he could fetch his portable CD player for Byrd.

"It'll give him something to listen to," Malamala said. "He listens to a little bit different music than I do. But I have some Bob #F Marley. He might like that. A little mellow. He's probably never listened to Bob Marley ever."

By 8 o'clock, Malamala was coming off the elevator again, CD player in hand. It felt so good to be able to do something, in light of how Byrd has made all who come visit him feel so much better.

"You walk in there, and you have mixed emotions based on what you've heard," Mackrides said. "But when you're done, you just sit there and say, 'Wow, if there's anyone in this world who can handle this, it's Dennis.'

"There isn't anybody else with his spirit and his drive. I just pray to God we get a little luck. We need some of that."

Hess, who has been a frequent visitor of Dennis Byrd's this week, has made assurances to Byrd and his family that he will take care of them financially.

Under the 1982 collective bargaining agreement, Byrd would be eligible for a one-time $65,000 injury-protection payment and $4,000 a month in disability payments.

Hess, one of the most generous owners in the NFL, spoke with Byrd's family this week and reassured them.

Just before the season, Byrd signed a three-year, $2.05 million contract with salaries of $550,000, $675,000 and $825,000. The contract is not guaranteed, but Hess presumably will make sure that Byrd is taken care of.

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