Byrd recovery more than just a physical one

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dennis Byrd won't be playing in any more football games, but he's proving to be a big winner.

Byrd, the former New York Jets defensive lineman who was partially paralyzed last Nov. 29 in a collision with a teammate, admits he felt despair in those first dark moments on the field.

He worried that if he were paralyzed, his wife might leave him and his 3-year-old daughter might not love him. He worried the Jets would forget him and he'd die in poverty.

Byrd had since made a remarkable recovery. He's now walking with hesitant steps.

His mental attitude is even more remarkable. Instead of being bitter, Byrd, a devout Christian, sees his accident as a chance to help others.

"I can touch more lives than I ever could have as a football player," he said last week during a speech to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

He now realizes how wrong he was to feel so much despair on the field.

"Six-foot-5, 277 pounds. This is how I identified Dennis Byrd. This is what I thought made me the love of my wife. This is what I thought made me the respected father of my daughter. This is what I thought people looked to when they saw Dennis Byrd.

"Understand what this tragedy did to me. I was stripped of what I thought was my manhood. I was stripped of my physical prowess, of my speed and my strength and my physical ability. All this was gone. Looking back now, I was so completely wrong. Out of this lesson, I learned more about myself and about my God than I could have learned in a lifetime," he said.

He added: "This is a wonderful, wonderful time in my life. I can't imagine through such a tragedy how a man could be so blessed. Isn't it unbelieveable that I'm standing here on my own?"

He's also learned to crack his share of jokes.

When he was asked how he'd feel if the Jets dedicated the coming season to him, he said, "I don't know if I could take the pressure. If in the end they have a bad year, they could say, 'Well, we dedicated it to Dennis.' "

The list

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is making a list and checking it twice.

Even though he's still putting together the plan for selling 100 sky boxes and 7,500 club seats as the finishing touch to the city's bid for an NFL franchise, he's already getting requests and has started to compile a list of them.

"We'll be following up promptly," he said.

Belgrad is rushing to put together his plan by June 1, the start date set by the league for a sales campaign. Belgrad has hired the advertising firm of Trahan, Burden and Charles to work with the Greater Baltimore Committee on the details. There will also be businessmen as volunteers in the sales force. If you run a business in Baltimore, you can expect to get a call.

Belgrad also hopes to get the average fan involved in the campaign. There are tentative plans to sell what could be called "The Six Pack."

A purchaser of two club seats would be given the right to buy four season tickets for a total of six tickets.

That would allow friends and families to pool their resources and guarantee themselves tickets since there's likely to be an overwhelming demand for regular-season tickets if the city is awarded a franchise.

By spreading the cost of two club seats -- expected to be between $2,000 and $3,000 a year plus the cost of the tickets -- among six people, the cost would be between $400 and $500 a person. Half of that -- $200 to $250 -- would be due this summer to guarantee the six seats.

The first priority will be to set the price for each box and club seat, which may be accomplished this week.

The average price will be $70,000 for a sky box and $1,200 for a club seat, but Belgrad has a preliminary design plan of the stadium and can put a price on each seat.

The price

Baltimore got good news last week when the league's expansion and finance committees decided the price for the franchise will likely be more than $150 million. At the owners meeting in Atlanta in two weeks, they'll probably settle at about $175 million.

A high price is good for Baltimore because the city's strength is its financial package. It also has three ownership groups with strong financial backing, including Malcolm Glazer, who doesn't need bank financing and has promised to write a check for the fee if he gets the team.

"We've been talking in terms of $150 million or more. I don't think the number comes as any surprise," Belgrad said. "I don't think it'll result in anybody rethinking their commitment here. That may not be true in other cities."

Falling behind

Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Washington Redskins, had hoped to open his new stadium -- which will feature more than 300 sky boxes -- in 1995. But now, because of all the red tape he faces, including an environmental impact study, it will likely be pushed back to 1996 -- the same year the new football stadium in Baltimore will open if the city gets a team.

Cooke still hopes to begin construction this October, play the first month on the road in 1995 and get all the home dates in the new stadium that year. But that may no longer be a realistic goal.

Incidentally, this hasn't been a good off-season for Cooke. He lost coach Joe Gibbs, and the salary cap cost him the winning bid for Reggie White and played a role in the decision to put Wilber Marshall on the trading block.

On top of that, Cooke thought he'd make a nice gesture by giving Art Monk a farewell season at his old salary of $1.1 million as a backup even though he's lost a step.

Monk didn't appreciate the gesture and also wants to start. It's always tough for an older player to admit he can't do it anymore. By skipping minicamp, he won the sympathy of the fans and it's turned into a public-relations nightmare for the team.

The Redskins will take the heat for now. Once Desmond Howard starts catching passes, they figure the fans will no longer be clamoring for Monk.

Goodbye

Will the last player to leave the Philadelphia Eagles please turn out the lights?

The Eagles lost seven free agents this year, plus Keith Jackson last year, and now Keith Byars is talking to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are talking about giving Byars only a modest raise from $900,000 to $1 million, but it doesn't take much to get a player to leave the Eagles these days.

The negotiating game

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said he doesn't think the NFL rights fees from the TV networks will drop next year, but baseball has made the negotiations a lot tougher by accepting a deal without a rights fee from NBC and ABC that may cut its TV revenue in half.

The NFL certainly will get a rights fee, but the networks' appetite for cutting back has been whetted by the baseball deal.

The NFL has one advantage. It at least takes the position the fans want to see all of its playoff games. It's hard to imagine the NFL ever playing the AFC and NFC title games at the same time the way baseball is considering doing with its playoff games.

There's some thought baseball is trying to set up pay-per-view, but if it doesn't think the fans will watch playoff games on free TV, it would seem to be hard to sell them on pay-per-view.

Another chance

At the end of the 1988 season, the Los Angeles Raiders cut James Lofton at age 32 after he caught just 28 passes.

Lofton went on to play four years for the Buffalo Bills, who cut him earlier this off-season. The Raiders then decided to re-sign Lofton, who'll be 37 in July, and trade Mervyn Fernandez, 33, to the San Francisco 49ers.

Fernandez's agent, Bob LaMonte, was happy about the trade because Fernandez had been benched, but said: "They cut Lofton in '89 for the same reason [age] they supposedly stopped playing Mervyn last year. And now they sign Lofton, who's 37 and who Mervyn replaced in '89. It's really is kind of crazy."

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