Dave Duerson's secret life and tragic end

That was also the year when Dave's 81-year-old mother, Julia, died. Soon afterward, Yvette called him with a mundane issue involving selling meat to the Chicago public school system. Dave flew into a screaming rage, and before the conversation was over, he had fired his niece and her husband. "Dave had never even raised his voice at me or cussed at me," Yvette says. "Now he's having us escorted out of the plant by security... I don't think he had fully grieved his mother."

Two years later, Dave was arrested for pushing his wife against a wall at a hotel in South Bend, where he was staying on Notre Dame business. He pleaded no contest and resigned from his alma mater's board. In a later interview, Dave called the episode his "biggest regret," but he was less contrite when speaking with South Florida friend Chris Priester. "He told me she was loud-talking and screaming, and how embarrassing it was," Chris says. "He said he just tried to get her out of the way."

In 2008, Alicia Duerson filed for divorce after 25 years of marriage. In court filings, she claimed Dave was an adulterer who was "guilty of extreme and repeated physical cruelty" toward her. Dave admitted to the philandering but claimed she had cheated too.

Dave Duerson, Muncie Indiana's golden child, was an All-American safety at the University of Notre Dame. View our Dave Duerson slide show.
Photo courtesy of the Duerson family
Dave Duerson, Muncie Indiana's golden child, was an All-American safety at the University of Notre Dame. View our Dave Duerson slide show.
Dave treated his niece Yvette like a little sister.
Photo courtesy of the Duerson family
Dave treated his niece Yvette like a little sister.

By then, Duerson Foods was in receivership. He pulled down a $120,000 salary as an executive for Archibald Frozen Desserts, but soon he lost that position. He moved to his family's old vacation spot, the condo in Sunny Isles Beach. An alliance of Wisconsin businesses continued to pursue Dave, filing suit in Miami-Dade County in an attempt to collect a $573,000 judgment stemming from an unpaid business loan.

In November 2009, his father, Arthur Jr. — always his hero — died at age 86. Ten months later, Dave filed for bankruptcy. According to court papers, he claimed a personal loss of $5,106 in 2009 and an income of $16,800 the next year.

His only significant asset was the uncollectable $35 million judgment. He also listed a $30,000 "possible claim" against Ocean One, his Sunny Isles condo building. Dave claimed that a downstairs neighbor broke into his unit and stole three rolled-up abstract Cuban street paintings from his bedroom closet, says building manager Ron Ben-David: "It didn't make sense."

Dave's brother Michael and sister Viola both filed claims in local court demanding access to their father's last will and testament, which Dave controlled. He was funding his South Florida lifestyle, it appears, by milking Arthur Jr.'s estate.

Dave missed child support payments for his 15-year-old daughter Taylor and still owed Alicia $70,000. In December 2010, two months before his death, she filed a claim in court for "concealed" assets he hadn't declared in bankruptcy. They included a Rolex watch, his Man of the Year trophy, and his two Super Bowl rings.

Yvette, who mostly lost contact with her uncle after his meltdown at the meat plant, thinks she understands why South Florida appealed to him. "It's like he knew something was wrong with him, and he wanted to get as far away from friends and family as possible," she says. "He didn't want to be a burden when all his life he had been the one to help us with our burdens."

Says friend and former Philadelphia Eagle and Cleveland Brown Ray Ellis: "He didn't want to crumble in front of an audience."

In October 2010, responding to growing concern over the fate of football players, the NFL made new penalties for excessively hard hits and helmet-to-helmet collisions. "This sucks!" Dave wrote on his Facebook page. "This is a game of collisions!"

The next installment of his weekly online radio show was probably the liveliest Dave ever aired. He lambasted the rule changes as an "overreaction" and counter to the gridiron old school: "Ninety percent of the time, we're going to explode on the guy because that's the way this sport was built!"

You could almost hear his pugnacious smile as he puffed his cigar. "I'm so fired up. I just fired up my Rocky Patel, and I'm pulling on it long and hard."

Everybody has their story about the last time they saw Dave Duerson: at his favorite Miami Beach cigar bar or recording his radio show or in a Chicago hotel lobby in November 2010 at the 25th anniversary reunion of the 1985 Bears, where he purportedly buried the hatchet with Mike Ditka. All the accounts are the same: Dave was smoking stogies and cracking jokes.

Rev. Patricia Lesesne had recruited Dave as a partner in her fledgling Pompano Beach-based charter school company, Best4Broward. On February 14, they talked on the phone. "He gave me some amazing advice, as always," Lesesne says. "[News of his suicide] seems unreal. If someone were to tell me that this didn't happen — that it was all a joke — I would believe that."

The night of Tuesday, February 15, Dave unlocked the door to Ocean One's unit 603 and entered his apartment. According to surveillance cameras, he never emerged again.

At 2:45 p.m. that Thursday, Dave's worried fiancée, Antoinette Sykes, who was in Chicago, called building manager Ben-David and authorized him to enter the apartment. He dialed 911 when he felt something blocking the door. Miami-Dade Police officers discovered the immaculate suicide scene.

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6 comments
Twin2090
Twin2090

Rest in peace dave and may God bless you. Hope you enjoy heaven

Bears Fan
Bears Fan

R.I.P. Dave. I hope you now have the peace you didn't have before.

I too had a friend of mine that played for the Jets in the 80's, Tom Baldwin. He too took his own life. Very sad indeed.

Danny Domer
Danny Domer

His downward spiral started in the incident at the Morris Inn on the campus of the University of Notre Dame - the altercation with his wife resulted in disgrace and ND dumping him from the board and blacklisting him. That's the thanks he got from ND. If it wasn't for how ND treated him, I am convinced he would not have spiraled downward like he did. So sad, so very very sad.

thegreatbillbrasky
thegreatbillbrasky

Come on Gus, it's the University of Notre Dame. This isn't hard...

Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

my cousin johnny sawyer played for buffalo bills in the 80''s he liked dave duerson commited same act .

 
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