Dave Duerson, a key player on the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, was found dead Thursday night in his Miami home at the age of 50.The Miami Dade County coroner did not state a cause of death. News of Duerson’s passing sent shock waves through the 1985 team. When newly elected Hall of Famer Richard Dent woke up Friday morning, his voice mail was full of messages from former teammates calling to talk about Duerson.
Several teammates said they had spoken with Duerson in recent weeks. “When we spoke recently, he sounded great,” former Bears defensive back Shaun Gayle said. “It’s a real shock to all of the guys.” Duerson was selected by the Bears out of Notre Dame in the third round of the 1983 draft. He became a starter in 1985 and played in the first of four consecutive Pro Bowls that year. In 1987, he was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. He also was the one of the Bears’ NFLPA representatives, and he was a leader through the 1987 strike.
“He was a hell of a football player,” former Bears coach Mike Ditka said Friday. “He came in at the right time for us because that’s when Todd Bell held out. He fit right in, became a starter. We liked everything about him at Notre Dame. He rounded out that defense. He fit in perfectly with Gary Fencik back there and was one of the leaders of our team.”
The Bears released Duerson after the 1989 season. He signed with the Giants and won a Super Bowl in his only season with the team. He finished out his career playing three seasons for the Phoenix Cardinals. After growing up in Muncie, Ind., he was a four-year starter at Notre Dame and a two-time All American. In 1982, he was a Fighting Irish captain. He was named first-team All-America pick as a senior by the Football Writers Association of America, Football News and College & Pro Football Newsweekly. As a junior in ’81 he earned third-team All-America honors from Football News.
“Our hearts go out to the Duerson family and to all those who knew Dave,” Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “In addition to being a great football player, Dave represented himself and the University in so many other ways as a team captain, as well as through his work with the Monogram Club and the Board of Trustees. You couldn’t help but be impressed by him when you met Dave Duerson, and I think that was thereaction from anyone who was ever around him.”
After his football career ended, Duerson’s life took some harsh turns. He became owner of Brooks Sausage Company, which later changed its name to Fair Oaks Farms. The company supplied sausage to Burger King and other fast food chains. Under Duerson’s leadership, Fair Oaks grew its annual sales to $63.5 million from $24 million.
He sold his stake in the company in 2002, and started Duerson Foods. That company was forced into receivership in 2006, and most of its assets were auctioned off. Duerson had his Highland Park home foreclosed in 2007. In retirement, he also butted heads with Ditka about disability benefits for former NFL players. In 2007, Duerson filed for divorce from his wife of 24 years. The year before, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery. Duerson subsequently lost his position as a University of Notre Dame trustee.
His former wife Alicia Duerson told NBCChicago, “Our family asks that you please remember Dave as a good, kind and caring man. He loved and cherished his family and friends and was extremely proud of his beloved Notre Dame and … Chicago Bears. Please keep Dave and our family in your prayers.” Duerson was a consultant in Florida, and was hosting an Internet radio show called “Double Time with Double D,” on VoiceAmerica.com. He broadcast his final show Thursday. He is survived by four children.