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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #96: Keith Byars

Who finished second to Doug Flutie in the 1984 Heisman Trophy balloting? Keith Byars. During his junior season at The Ohio State University, Byars set a Buckeye record with 2,441 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns. He was simply a dominant offensive weapon, and was the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman as a senior in 1985 before breaking a bone in his foot in the preseason. He was never the same that year, and frankly never the same period. (His 50 career touchdowns remain second in Ohio State team history.)

The Philadelphia Eagles still used the tenth overall pick on him in the 1986 NFL Draft, and he became a very good player for them. In his seven seasons as a fullback and tight end he produced 2,672 yards on the ground with 17 touchdowns and 3,532 through the air with another 13 scores. In 1990 he went 4-4 passing with four touchdowns. Those Randall Cunningham Philly teams were decent but never dominant. Byars would have a productive four year stint with the Dolphins, putting up 20 touchdowns and even making a Pro Bowl in 1993.

So why is he on this list? Because he joined the Patriots in 1996 as a free agent signing after Miami released him. He became a key contributor to the Bledsoe-led offense that was coming together en route to a Super Bowl run. He scored the first touchdown against Pittsburgh in the divisional round, and one of my vivid memories of Super Bowl XXXI is Byars' 1-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring for the Patriots after the Packers had jumped out to a 10-0 lead. I also remember his key 32-yard catch and run on that same drive that helped show the that these Patriots could hang with Green Bay. Which they did, for longer than expected.

Byars played with the Pats again in 1997, and then with the Jets in 1998, before retiring. Sports can be a fun game of what if. In this case, what might Keith Byars have been if he hand't broken his foot before his senior year in college?

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