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Byrd Collects Overdue Accolade

Gill Byrd is going to the Pro Bowl.

Yawn.

This is news?

No way.

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This should be boringly repetitive, like Jerry Brown runs for office or Dennis Conner goes sailing or John McEnroe throws a tantrum.

“Good for Gill,” you say. “It’s nice to see he made it again.”

Byrd should have spent so much time in Honolulu that he is eligible to run for mayor. When football’s finest head once again to the islands, you figure Byrd for a cottage on Diamond Head rather than a hotel room.

A significant word is repeating itself.

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Should.

Gill Byrd, you see, has never been to a Pro Bowl.

That’s right. Here he is, one game away from completing his ninth year in the National Football League, and he finally gets voted into his first Pro Bowl.

It makes you wonder why they bother playing the darn game. After all, it is supposed to showcase the AFC’s best against the NFC’s best. Given such criteria, something (or someone) has obviously been missing.

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Gill Byrd, cornerback.

The man has 27 interceptions over the last four seasons. No one else in the NFL can match him for that span.

Consistency?

Byrd had seven interceptions in 1988, seven in 1989, seven in 1990 and six thus far in 1991. Don’t bet against him rolling another seven. His favorite victims, the Denver Broncos, are in town Sunday.

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Who knows why Byrd has been overlooked for so long.

Maybe he has been considered a man without a position. Going into the 1991 season, he had started 66 games at left cornerback, 23 at right cornerback, 16 at strong safety and 10 at free safety. His 14 starts this season have all been at left corner.

Maybe that was all he needed . . . a home.

More than likely, he has been victimized by the Chargers’ reputation for being weak in the secondary. Defense, in truth, has been a Charger weakness through most of his years with the club.

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Call it guilt by association.

Even in the last few years, when defense was improving and offense was faltering, the secondary continued to take the rap for nasty happenings. The guys up front did the job when the defense was strong and the guys out back were the culprits when the defense slipped.

Part of this perception of the Chargers’ defensive backs is fueled by the fact that they operate in the wide open spaces. Folks tend to understand what they can see. And it is much easier to see a defensive back get beaten than a linebacker or lineman. Of such are negative reputations fed.

Consequently, all the good he has done has come to no good, at least in terms of individual recognition.

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Not that individual recognition is that important to him.

“Team accomplishments,” he said, “are much more important than individual accomplishments.”

In fact, Byrd said he would trade his Pro Bowl trip for a playoff trip, which he has never experienced. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Never has. Honors are not currency.

Even in a team sport, there are times to enjoy individual glory.

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This is one of them.

Significantly, Byrd is the first Charger defensive back ever voted into the Pro Bowl. It is not surprising that this player was the one to break the ice.

Gill Byrd has worked hard. He had made himself better than his physical tools alone would have allowed him to be. He is smart and he is tough.

Every week, Byrd goes head-to-head against the best athletes in the NFL . . . the wide receivers. Rarely, if ever, is he as quick as them or as fast as them.

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However, he knows them. He studies them. He beats them with his heart and he beats them with his brain.

All you probably need to know about Byrd, in fact, is that his teammates have voted him the Chargers’ most inspirational player for four years in a row. That about covers dedication and work ethic.

When the results of the Pro Bowl balloting were announced Wednesday, Byrd seemed skeptical at first. Who could blame him?

Finally, it was official. Not only was he going to Hawaii, but he was going to Hawaii as a starter.

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Individually, this was the biggest day of his career.

This was something to celebrate.

Practice ended and meetings ended and the Chargers packed their attache cases and headed home from the office. Most of them were gone by 3:30 or 4.

One man was sighted leaving the stadium much later. One man stayed late to watch films and study Sunday’s enemies. One man left the stadium at 7:30.

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This was one man who would have been excused had he wanted to celebrate.

Gill Byrd.


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