Byrd won't pull punches in new role

August 17, 1993|By Bob Raissman | Bob Raissman,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Dennis Byrd sat at the end of a long table on the 19th floor of CBS headquarters yesterday and wrote this question to himself on a yellow piece of paper: "Which is more important, strategy or fundamentals?"

CBS' NFL analysts had pondered the same question during a skull session. This was Byrd's first meeting with his new teammates, nine months after he was carried off the Giants Stadium carpet partially paralyzed, wondering where life would take him. Well, if you saw Byrd walk and listened to him talk in that Black Rock office yesterday, you'd realize he's intent not on just being a TV football analyst. He wants to be one of the best.

John Madden leaned in and whispered something to Byrd a few minutes before someone asked the former defensive tackle if he thought Bruce Coslet was at a crossroads in his New York Jets coaching career.

This was as good a test as any to see how straight Byrd would shoot from the booth. And without hesitation, Byrd affirmed that the pressure was on Coslet. "With the talent he [Coslet] has on his football club now, with Boomer Esiason stepping in, he really doesn't have -- and I hate to use this word -- the excuse of grooming a quarterback," Byrd said. "I do think he's at a bit of a crossroad because he has a little more talent right now than he had in the past, but I think it's a challenge Bruce is up to."

Madden gave a little nod at the answer. If there's anyone who knows about delivering a straight answer, it's the big man. Madden started his broadcasting career with relatively little attention. Byrd won't have that luxury. True, he'll be working games in small markets in a limited six-game schedule, but he's already a high-profile personality and will be under the microscope.

"I think he's going to do real well because he has a passion for the game. He has proven when he puts his mind to something he can get it done," Madden said. "I just hope everyone gives him time. The first time the guy goes [on the air] everyone wants to take his temperature."

After what Byrd has been through, any pressure would seem insignificant. However, there are certain perceptions any rookie analyst must deal with. And for Byrd there are more. He knows some people might think CBS is using his situation to gain publicity. But Byrd, 26, knows it's a way to pave a new future for himself while offering him the opportunity to be close to the game he still loves.

On the perception that he won't go hammer-time on players who only recently were his professional peers and reached out to him in his time of need, Byrd said, "I'm not going to have any trouble making comments because I'm going to be honest about that. If someone can't accept that, it's their problem.

"One of the hardest things I've ever said was that this could be crossroads time for Bruce. He's my coach and I hold him very dearly in my life, but I'm paid now to do a job and I want to do it well as I can."

There is no question that since the injury, Byrd has discovered his priorities. "Dennis Byrd learned many things about him, things he didn't have to be to be well thought of," Byrd said. "I didn't have to be a good football player, a star on a team. I didn't have to be 6-5, 270 pounds for my wife to love me or my children to love me, which was what I thought before the injury.

"You have this picture of yourself as being the protector and the provider, then you're totally laid to waste and you see why your wife loves you and why your children love you. My daughter loves me because I'm her daddy and she loves me unconditionally. My wife fell in love with a much different person than I thought I was."

Perhaps this was in Byrd's mind when he went out to Jets' camp a couple of weeks ago. As he drove to the field in a golf cart, he ached to get in the trenches again. "I wanted to be in the uniform, I wanted to be in the heat and I wanted to be sweatin'," Byrd said. "But things are different. I'm not going to be playing the game any more."

Byrd can accept other realities, like seeing a player flat on his back, surrounded by doctors. "I can convey the sincerity of that situation," he said. "It's not something I'll shy away from. I can't freeze when that situation arises."

So there is no fear in Dennis Byrd. Not in his voice. Not in his heart and certainly not in his head as he plunges into a business pitted with potholes and populated with snakes in expensive suits.

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