NEW YORK -- Dennis Byrd's life was altered forever last Nov. 29 when he slammed headfirst into New York Jets teammate Scott Mersereau's chest while trying to sack Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg.
The impact fractured Byrd's fifth cervical vertebra and left him partly paralyzed. It seemed he would never walk again. In fact, Byrd went on to make a remarkable recovery, regaining nearly full use of his arms and legs and resuming an active life, although one different from when he was a respected defensive lineman for the Jets. And now comes the one-year anniversary of the injury.
"I want to make it clear that there's nothing to celebrate with the Nov. 29 date," Byrd said in a telephone interview from his parents' home in Baton Rouge, La. "To me it's just a medical date."
Because the date is so close to Thanksgiving, the memory of the injury will always be intertwined with the holiday for Byrd.
He spent this Thanksgiving in Baton Rouge with his wife, Angela, and their two young daughters, his parents and his brothers and sisters.
"There's a certain quickening or bonding to everyone," Byrd said. "This is the most traumatic thing that's ever happened in my life. My wife, her parents and my parents have been so strong through all of this. It's just amazing how everyone found the strength for the kind of support they gave me."
It has been a long and tough road to recovery for Byrd. He had surgery three days after the injury and then made a steady climb to health. He is walking and can use his right hand, although he has trouble with his left.
Two weeks ago, he had a tearful reunion with the doctors and bTC therapists at Lenox Hill and Mount Sinai hospitals and watched his former teammates defeat the Dolphins at Giants Stadium.
"I often think about it, but just quietly," he said of the injury. "Just all the things that I've been through, the accident, the surgery, the rehab.
"It seems like an incredibly long time ago with the surgery and the long rehabilitation in New York and Tulsa. I've done so many things, like the opening day for the Mets and the Jets, and I've met so many people, that it seems like longer than a year."
Byrd, 27, witnessed the birth of his second daughter, Halley, in July. He has written his autobiography, entitled "Rise & Walk" (Harper Collins 1993). He works as a football analyst for CBS and is scheduled to work three more games.
A movie based on his life will start filming in Tulsa tomorrow, coinciding with the anniversary of the accident. And he is in the midst of doing research on a camp that he wants to build in Oklahoma for children with spinal cord injuries.
"I'm adjusting real well," he said. "I had a really healthy anhumble way of looking at pro football from the beginning and that's helped me since the accident. I've just kept things in perspective. I still have my family and I've learned to walk again. But I miss the guys on the team . . . and I wish I was still a part of the camaraderie. But you move on."