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TV REVIEWS : Jets Player’s Struggle Dramatized on Fox

The biggest sack of defensive lineman Dennis Byrd’s life--knocking into a hat the medical predictions that he would never walk again--is the stuff of the legendary “Brian’s Song” (1972), although Byrd’s movie has a sunny ending.

Even viewers who have never heard of the New York Jets player, who broke his neck in a collision with a teammate in a New York-Kansas City game in 1992, should be touched by “Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story” (at 8 tonight on Fox, Channels 11 and 6) with its personal crucible of courage, strength, commitment and the infectious display of love from his wife (Kathy Morris) and teammates.

Here at last, for those always lamenting murder-of-the-week TV movies, is a positive, upbeat movie. Man in conflict with himself is the only discord here, with actor Peter Berg convincingly steering Byrd from an affable, gung-ho jock to a tenacious, bedridden fighter with metal screws holding his head straight.

The camaraderie from Jets teammates seems genuinely unforced, and Byrd’s grind-it-out-three-inches-and-a-cloud-of-dust rehabilitation regimen is sensitively helmed by director Michael Dinner.

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The risk with such a project is the absence of a dark edge. We are not only used to corruption in our sports world, we anticipate it. Here everybody loves everybody. The movie (adapted from Byrd’s book by Sally Nemeth, John Miglis and Mark Levin) never once questions the conditions of the game. Even the coach and a wheelchair-bound rehab sorehead are curiously lovable.


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