Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
CHICAGO -- Family and friends remembered former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson as a generous man whose caring nature belied his reputation as a ferocious hitter on the 1985 Chicago Bears championship team.
They attended a packed memorial for Duerson at a southside Chicago church on Saturday.
A four-time Pro Bowl pick who played on Super Bowl winners with the Bears and New York Giants, Duerson committed suicide last week at his home in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. He was 50.
Duerson's death rocked former teammates and coaches, who recently said he had seemed to be in good spirits after going through financial problems and a divorce the past few years. At a reunion of the 1985 Bears championship team a few months ago, he told them he was planning to get married again in April and seemed optimistic about his future.
His youngest son, Brock, gave one of several eulogies on Saturday, along with 1985 Bears teammate Otis Wilson and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"My dad, Dave Duerson, was a kind and generous man who believed in helping others," Brock said. "Who would ever think that a small-town boy from Muncie, Ind., would become such a success in sports, academics and business? I'm extremely proud to be a Duerson."
The New York Times reported that Duerson had sent text messages to his family asking that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease tied to depression, dementia and suicide.
His brain was donated to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine and was to undergo studies looking for any disease or abnormality but focused on CTE, which has been found in numerous athletes.
Brock Duerson said after the service that the family will start a charity to help athletes deal with mental illness. He said the family won't get the results of the brain tests for three to six months.
Duerson starred at Notre Dame before getting drafted by the Bears in the third round in 1983.
Two years later, with Todd Bell sitting out the season in a contract dispute, he became a starter on one of the greatest defenses ever assembled.
"It was real joy to work with Dave," Wilson said. "He couldn't do anything halfway."
With Hall of Famers Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, the Bears left a trail of battered opponents while shuffling all the way to the championship. Duerson did his part in the backfield with five interceptions and made the first of four straight Pro Bowls.
A year later, he picked off a career-high six passes while setting what was an NFL record for sacks by a defensive back with seven. That mark stood until 2005, when Arizona's Adrian Wilson had eight.
Duerson would go on to win another Super Bowl with the 1990 Giants after being released by the Bears and spend three years with Arizona before retiring after 11 seasons.
He remained active in the union and served as a trustee on the NFL Players Association's retirement board. He clashed with Ditka over the way former players' claims were distributed, but the coach said they eventually made up.
Duerson was also involved in several businesses after his career.
He owned a few McDonald's franchises and later helped to grow a company that supplied fast-food restaurants. He left to start his own company in 2002.
His life took some hard turns in the years that followed, though. His food-supply company was forced into receivership in 2006, and Duerson filed for divorce from his wife Alicia a year later. He lost his Chicago-area home to foreclosure and his position as Notre Dame trustee after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.
His brother Mike Duerson, 52, said after the memorial that he's donating his brain to the same Boston clinic. He said he's had health problems since playing college basketball his freshman year at IUPUI. He said he got a concussion after taking a charge and was paralyzed on his left side for six months.
"I've been diagnosed with just about everything -- they call it alphabet soup, as far as psychological problems," Mike Duerson said.
He said he hopes something positive comes out of his brother's death.
"I don't know if it's a wake-up call for the NFL, but it may be for colleges," he said.
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