Two NC State alumni who initially made a name for themselves on the playing fields have died. Dennis Byrd ’69, a three-time All-ACC football player who’s the only defensive player to have his jersey retired at NC State, died Thursday after having a heart attack during a back surgery. And Kaye Young Cowher ’78, who played basketball at NC State under Kay Yow and was the wife of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher’79, died of skin cancer on Friday.
After the jump we’ve got write-ups and photos of both Byrd and Cowher.
Kaye Young Cowher ’78 of Raleigh died Friday of skin cancer. She and her twin sister, Faye Young Miller ’78, played on the Wolfpack women’s basketball team under Kay Yow and was a member of the program’s first Atlantic Coast Conference women’s title in 1978. They both played three seasons in the now defunct Women’s Professional Basketball League and filmed a Wrigley Doublemint gum commercial.
Kaye is also the wife of Bill Cowher ’79, the former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers who was a linebacker on NC State’s football team in the late 1970s.
“Kaye was such a loving and compassionate person and she was the foundation of our family,” Bill Cowher, now an NFL analyst with CBS, said in a statement Saturday. “Kaye was always at my side throughout my career as a player, coach NFL analyst, and most important, as a parent to our three daughters.”
And from The News & Observer:
“The thing that I remember was that she had him up early in the morning and he used to take the cats for a walk,” former N.C. State basketball player Sherri Pickard said Saturday. “They had this little collar and a leash. My image was, ‘This guy really loves her. Here’s this big football player out in the neighborhood watching these cats.’
“I’ve spent some time with them through the years, and they always seemed to have a very playful, respectful, loving relationship.”
Kaye and Bill Cowher were named NC State’s 1996 Outstanding Alumni, and she was a member of the NC State Board of Visitors at the time of her death.
Kaye’s death came one day after the passing of another member of the Wolfpack family: Dennis Byrd ’69.
A defensive tackle on NC State’s football team from 1964 to 1967, Byrd was the first two-time football All-American and the only defensive player to have his jersey retired at NC State. He had recently been selected to be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame.
Byrd suffered a heart attack on July 15 while undergoing an unrelated back surgery and never regained consciousness. . . .
A member of the famed “White Shoes Defense” in 1967, Byrd was the physical leader of the defense that gave the Wolfpack its first national acclaim on the gridiron by beating third-ranked Houston in the Astrodome and rising to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, the high ranking in school history. However, the Wolfpack, with Byrd out of the lineup because of a knee injury, lost its final two games in the regular season, to Penn State and Clemson, before earning the school’s first post-season bowl victory, a win over Georgia in the 1967 Liberty Bowl.
He played professional football for two years and then was a teacher and a football coach at West Lincoln High School and Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City for 30 years.