Dave Duerson: The Ferocious Life and Tragic Death Of A Super Bowl Star
Source: mensjournal.com | Re-Post Duerson Foundation 10/25/2016
Dave Duerson set the scene with a hangman’s care before climbing into bed with the revolver. The former Pro Bowl safety for the Super Bowl–champion 1985 Chicago Bears drew the curtains of his beachfront Florida condo, laid a shrine of framed medals and an American flag to his father, a World War II vet, and pulled the top sheet up over his naked body, a kindness to whoever found him later. On the dining room table were notes and a typed letter that were alternately intimate and official, telling his former wife where his assets were and whom to get in touch with to settle affairs. He detailed his motives for ending his life, citing the rupture of his family and the collapse of his finances, a five-year cliff dive from multimillionaire to a man who couldn’t pay his condo fees. Mostly, though, he talked about a raft of ailments that pained and depressed him past all tolerance: starburst headaches and blurred vision, maddening craters in his short-term memory, and his helplessness getting around the towns he knew. Once a man so acute he aced his finals at Notre Dame with little study time, he found himself now having to dash down memos about what he was doing and when. Names, simple words, what he’d eaten for dinner – it was all washing out in one long wave.
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Duerson is the powerful, tragic story of how one football champion’s life first blossomed and then bottomed out after his NFL career ended. It is the story of a player whose fate propelled the conversations about the NFL and chronic brain trauma onto the national stage.
In many ways, Dave Duerson was the prototypical success story for a professional athlete. After a standout career at Notre Dame, he went on to become a four-time Prow Bowler in the NFL, winning Super Bowls with the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1990 New York Giants. Following his playing career, he grew his food-processing company into a $60 million enterprise. Duerson had a full family life, served on the board of trustees for his alma mater, and continued his involvement with football by working with the NFL Player Association. Then it all went wrong. Read more…
Dave Duerson played football, basketball, and baseball at Muncie (Indiana) Northside High School. He was given an opportunity to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a pitcher and outfielder in 1979, but at the insistence of his father, he pursued his education at the University Of Notre Dame, where he graduated in 1983 with a Gold Tassel.
Duerson received many honors during his high school years, including the 1979 Indiana Mr. Football, and was part of the National Honor Society and The Musical Ambassadors All-American Band.
Duerson played college football at the University of Notre Dame from 1979 to 1982. He graduated with honors (Gold Tassel), with a BA in Economics. He started all four years, and earned recognition as an All-American in 1981 and 1982. He was named as his team’s MVP in 1982, and a Captain. He was the winner of the Edward “Moose” Krause Distinguished Service Award in 1990 by the Notre Dame Monogram Club, of which he was a past president. He was also a member of the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees from 2001-2005.
Duerson was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1986 to 1989 in his career, and won two championship rings, with the Bears (Super Bowl XX), and with the Giants (Super Bowl XXV). During the 1986 season, Duerson set an NFL record (later broken in 2005 by Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals) for most sacks in a season by a defensive back, with seven. He also intercepted six passes for 139 yards with a long return of 38 yards. At season’s end, Duerson was named first team All-Pro by Pro Football Weekly, the Pro Football Writers Association and The Sporting News and second team All-Pro by AP. In 1987, Duerson was the recipient of the NFL Man of the Year Award. In his 11 seasons, Duerson recorded 20 interceptions, which he returned for 226 yards, and 16 quarterback sacks. He also recovered five fumbles, returning them for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Duerson owned three McDonald’s restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky for six months, from late 1994 to April 1995. He purchased the majority interest in Fair Oaks Farms (formerly Brooks Sausage Company) in 1995. Duerson grew the company from $24M revenue to over $63.5M in six years. He sold his stake in the company in 2002 and started Duerson Foods, but that company was forced into receivership in 2006 and most of its assets were auctioned off. Dave earned his Executive MBA from Harvard University after he retired from the NFL.
Duerson was found dead at his Sunny Isles Beach, Florida home on February 17, 2011. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner reported that Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He sent a text message to his family saying he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by playing pro football. He left behind three sons and a daughter from his marriage to ex-wife Alicia Duerson. On May 2, 2011 researcher neurologists at Boston University confirmed that he suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
Dave’s final resting place is in the Mausoleum at his beloved Notre Dame.