One week after former University of Tulsa great Dennis Byrd died in an automobile accident, the Golden Hurricane honored him during their game against Tulane, Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
Byrd was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash that occurred on Oct. 15 on Highway 88 between Oologah and Claremore. A 17-year-old Claremore youth driving a 2000 Ford Explorer northbound veered into the oncoming lane, striking the 2004 Hummer H2 that Byrd was driving. Byrd’s 12-year old son and the other driver were taken to the hospital in serious condition.
Prior to the National Anthem, the crowd of 22,349 was asked to observe a moment of silence. Other ways TU honored Byrd’s memory was by lowering the TU flag to half-mast; they painted number 48 at the 48-yard hash marks on the field; the players wore BYRD 48 stickers on their helmets; and the TU captains carried Byrd’s original No. 48 jersey to midfield for the coin toss.
Byrd arrived at TU in 1984, but redshirted a year before starting four years on the defensive line. He racked up 321 tackles and 20 sacks in his college career. He was selected in the second round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. In his fourth season with the Jets (1992), Byrd suffered a career-ending neck injury that left him partially paralyzed. The doctors weren’t sure if he would ever walk again, but less than a year later Byrd walked onto the field at the New York Jets home opener.
He never fully recovered and walked with some difficulty in the years since, while continuing to undergo physical therapy.
Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery spoke briefly about Byrd following the game.
“He was a man that stood for everything that we want our program to stand for,” Montgomery said. “A guy that was relentless in his fight to overcome odds, he did everything right, tried to make the people around him better.”
Byrd was a devout Christian and wrote a book in 1993 called Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd, which detailed how he relied on his faith and family to push through his injury to recover and serve as an inspiration to others who went through similar situations. A television movie was made based on the book.
The University of Tulsa dominated the game from beginning to end. The Golden Hurricane out rushed, out passed and outscored Tulane in a 50-27 win on Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Tulsa scored its first points just over two minutes into the game on an 11-yard TD pass from Dane Evans to Keevan Lucas.
“Overall real proud of the way our football team played,” said Montgomery. “Got a lot of questions last week about how our football team was going to respond. So, really proud of the way our guys came out, especially in the first half and really played well. Proud of, offensively, going down first possession right there, getting points, kind of mixed in a run and a pass real well.”
Tulane answered with a 6-yard TD run by Dontrell Hilliard with 7:25 left in the first quarter, but then the Tulsa dominance took over.
Touchdowns by Tulsa in the first half included a 49-yard TD pass to Josh Atkinson, a five-yard run by D’Angelo Brewer, and a six-yard run by James Flanders. Radford Jones added a 20-yard field goal, and Tulsa led 31-7 at halftime. Tulsa blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt by Tulane’s Andrew DiRocco at the end of the first half, and he missed a 36-yard field goal early in the second half.
The Golden Hurricane increased its lead in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown run by Rowdy Simon, the second TD of his career.
With 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, Tulane scored to cut the Tulsa lead, 38-14.
A very interesting turn of events occurred with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. Tulane scored on a 30-yard TD run by Hilliard, his second TD of the game. The Green Wave attempted a pass into the end zone for a two-point conversion. However, the pass was intercepted by McKinley Whitfield and he returned it over 100 yards into the end zone for two points. Tulsa led 40-20 at that point. On the next possession, Tulsa scored again on a 30-yard run by Flanders. Then the Hurricane made it an even 50 points on a 27-yard field goal by Jones. Tulane scored on the subsequent possession, going 90 yards in five plays to make the score 50-27 with 5:07 remaining in the game.
Flanders rushed for a career-high 190 yards and Atkinson finished with a career-high 142 receiving yards. Tulsa’s record improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference.
Montgomery was asked after the game if he felt Byrd would have been proud of the defensive performance by the Hurricane.
“Well, I told my guys in the locker room he would,” he said. “Yeah, so I would hope he would. I think they played the way he would want the game to be played.”
Tulane fell to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the AAC.
Tulsa will play at Memphis this Saturday at 7 p.m., and will return home to host East Carolina on Nov. 5, start time to be determined.