Updated 02/26/11 – 4:00 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Mourners filled historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, in Englewood, Saturday for the funeral of Chicago Bears Super Bowl safety Dave Duerson.
Many were Notre Dame or pro teammates. Former Bears Bruce Herron, Jim Osborne and Otis Wilson were among the pallbearers. Other ex-Bears on hand included Tom Thayer, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, Mike Singletary, Revie Sorey and Leslie Frazier. So was the matriarch of the McCaskey family, Virginia McCaskey.
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A contingent came from Duerson’s hometown of Muncie, Ind.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a standing ovation in Duerson’s memory and said that Duerson “mastered the Super Bowl of life.”
Wilson spoke and said Duerson never did anything halfway. He then stood at the side of Duerson’s youngest son, Brock, as he struggled to speak. Afterward, Brock voiced appreciation, saying, “I came to a lot of closure today. There are a lot of things that I’ happy with now, and I’m at peace.”
The younger Duerson, Wilson, the Notre Dame Monogram Club’s Julie Doyle and the ministers who spoke all said that Duerson was a kind and gentle man.
“My dad, Dave Duerson, was a kind and generous man who believed in helping others,” Brock Duerson 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.”
They said that Duerson always placed helping others first, right up to, as Brock Duerson phrased it, “the unusual circumstances” surrounding his father’s suicide, preceded by a request that his brain be given to the Boston University School of Medicine research team that is studying degenerative brain disease among former pro football players, focusing on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease tied to depression, dementia and suicide.
Brock Duerson said the family is convinced that his father suffered from CTE, although he said the family does not expect to get test results from Boston University for three to six months. He and the Duerson family’s pastor, the Reverend Ed Brown, said that at the end Duerson suffered from short-term memory loss and found it increasingly difficult to speak or compose sentences. Brock Duerson said that he, his brothers and sister hope to set up a foundation to assist those with football-related brain injuries and to further research.
The four-time Prio Bowl pick, who played on Super Bowl winners with the Bears and New York Giants, committed suicide last week at his home in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. He was 50.
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.
With Hall of Famers Singletary, Dent and 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 his second Super Bowl with the 1990 Giants after being released by the Bears and spent three years with Arizona before retiring from the NFL after 11 seasons. He then attended graduate school at Harvard University and became a businessman.
He remained active in the union and served as a trustee on the NFL Players Association’s retirement board. He clashed with former Bears Coach Mike Ditka over the way former players’ claims were distributed, but the coach said they eventually made up.