The last time the 1985 Bears gathered it was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Super Bowl triumph. This time, it will be to mourn a fallen teammate.
Former Bears’ safety Dave Duerson was found dead in his Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., home Thursday night. The cause of death remains unknown pending a medical examiner’s report, which a spokesperson for the Miami Dade County Police Department said could take a “few days or a couple weeks.” The spokesperson said police are still trying to determine if the Dave Duerson found is the former NFL player, although Duerson’s family, the Bears and Notre Dame, where Duerson played collegiately, all issued statements acknowledging his death.
Duerson, 50, attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1985 team last year and appeared to be overcoming recent personal and professional setbacks.
“He was telling me he was getting married in April and was sending out the invitations,” former Bears tight end Emery Moorehead said. “He was very upbeat at that point.”
The Bears made the two-time Notre Dame All-American their third-round selection in the 1983 draft. He went on to become a key member of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and appeared in four straight Pro Bowls from 1985-88. He won another Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 1990 before retiring after an 11-year career.
Duerson was thrust into the starting lineup before the 1985 season when Todd Bell sat out the season in a contract dispute.
“When we brought him in out of Notre Dame we knew what we were getting,” former Bears’ coach Mike Ditka said. “When Todd held out he stepped right in and took over the starter’s job. With Gary [Fencik] back there we had two of the best safeties in the league.”
Duerson went to the Pro Bowl after his first full season as a starter. According to Moorehead, it was he and linebacker Otis Wilson who started barking at opponents during games, prompting the soon-familiar chant of “woof, woof, woof” from the crowd at Soldier Field. The defense soon became known as the “Junk Yard Dogs.”
Duerson was honored for his community service in 1987 when he won the NFL Man of the Year Award.
“When he was a rookie and we were playing against Detroit Eddie Murray kicked a long field goal and was jumping up and down,” Moorehead said. “Ditka was pissed he was doing that and told Double D to get him. He beelined it right toward Eddie Murray and knocked him out. At that point he became one of the guys.”
After his NFL career ended, the Muncie, Ind., native ran a company that sold meat to fast food restaurants. Things began to unravel in 2006 when he pled guilty to a misdemeanor domestic battery charge, prompting him to resign from Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees.
In 2007, his company was forced into receivership, he lost his longtime Highland Park residence to foreclosure and he filed for a divorce from his wife of 24 years.
Duerson was serving in his role as an executive committee member for the NFL Players Association when he got into a heated radio exchange with his former coach while discussing the union’s treatment of needy ex-players that same year. After being interrupted by Duerson several times, Ditka hung up.
Most recently he was hosting an Internet radio show.
“Unfortunately, he has had some financial problems,” Ditka said. “I didn’t know he was having those kinds of problems. I’m sure that was probably the biggest thing. That can put a lot of pressure on you when things are going bad financially and you’re having family problems.”
Duerson is the second prominent member of the 1985 team to pass away. Hall of fame running back Walter Payton died of a rare liver disease in 1999.
“It’s really a shocker,” Moorehead said. “It lets you know that we’re all getting older and nobody is immune to some of the tragedies of life.”