Rise and walk. Jesus used those words, as we read in the English Standard Version of Luke 5:23, when he was talking to the scribes and the Pharisees after healing a man who was paralyzed, "Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?"
Rise and walk. That also was the title of the autobiography of Dennis Byrd, who was killed Saturday in a traffic accident near Claremore.
To those not old enough to remember, Dennis Byrd's name might not be familiar. But to anyone who recalls his story, Byrd is unforgettable.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Mustang native was an all-stater and an honorable mention all-American at the University of Tulsa before being chosen by the New York Jets in the second round of the 1989 NFL draft. He became something of a sack specialist for the Jets, recording 13 in his best season, 1990, and 28 for his career.
That career ended prematurely on Nov. 29, 1992. The Jets were playing the Kansas City Chiefs that day when Byrd and teammate Scott Mersereau rushed KC quarterback Dave Krieg. At the last second, Krieg stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and Byrd ran headlong into Mersereau, resulting in a broken C-5 vertebra, an injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
However, Byrd was determined to walk again. After several months of intense rehabilitation, Byrd made an appearance at the Jets' 1993 season opener. Slowly and carefully, but without any help, Byrd walked to the center of the field to serve as an honorary captain. Byrd never fully recovered from his injuries. Though able to walk, he was in almost constant pain.
Byrd went on to become a motivational speaker and established the Dennis Byrd Foundation to help children with disabilities and raise money for spinal cord research. A film of his life, also called "Rise and Walk," was made.
For their part, the Jets retired his No. 90 and established an award in his name that each season goes to the team's most inspirational player.
Byrd spent his playing career in the Big Apple, but his heart was never far from his Oklahoma roots. He settled in Tulsa, where he served as an assistant coach for Owasso High School and Lincoln Christian School, which named its field after him.
Saturday morning Byrd, 50, was driving between Claremore and Oologah when a 17-year-old in a pickup crossed the center line and hit Byrd's Hummer head on, killing Byrd instantly and sending the 17-year-old and Byrd's 12-year-old passenger to the hospital.
Byrd will be remembered as a true inspiration, a man of faith who overcame tremendous obstacles in his life.
In 2010, then-Jets head coach Rex Ryan asked Byrd to speak to the team prior to a key matchup with the New England Patriots. During this appearance Byrd said, "A man has a body, a mind and a spirit. There are times in a man's life when his body tells him it can't continue on. Where his mind will tell him that the task set for him is too hard for him to accomplish. Those two don't matter. It's a man's will, a man's spirit that will tell him you can do this! It will make the mind and the body follow along."
Dennis Byrd was a true testament to the power of the human spirit.
Jeff Mullin is senior writer of the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.