Dave Duerson had so much going for him. A former professional American football player, he still carried himself with the bearing of a star. In Chicago, he was feted as a member of the legendary 1985 Bears that won the Super Bowl, thrashing the New England Patriots 46-10. In New York, too, he was fondly remembered as a member of the Giants team that took the Super Bowl championship five years later, squeaking to victory over the Buffalo Bills by just one point.
He had friends throughout the sport, acquired over an 11-year career with the National Football League (NFL) and many years subsequently helping younger and less fortunate players find their way. He had a loving family with three sons and a daughter and a former wife, Alicia, who kept in regular touch, as well as a girlfriend to whom he had recently become engaged. He lived in a condominium that he owned on Sunny Isles Beach in Florida, a barrier island close to Miami dubbed the Venice of America. He was smart, charming, as kind and gentle off the field as he had been aggressive and ruthless on it.
But he knew that he had a problem. There were the outward signs of difficulties – the collapse of his business, the breakup of his marriage, the debts. But there were also the internal changes. The lapses in memory, the mood swings, the piercing headaches on the left side of his head, the difficulty spelling simple words, the blurred eyesight. And hanging over it all was his fear that both his material and physical decline might not be coincidental, that they might have been caused by injuries to his brain suffered playing the game he loved so much – football.
On 17 February 2011, aged 50, Duerson killed himself inside his Florida apartment. He did so in a manner that was in keeping with his unimpaired earlier self – meticulously, neatly, and with a thought to others. He had placed his NFL Man of the Year trophy, awarded in 1987, on a table beside the spot at which he fell, along with several notes setting out his financial and other arrangements. One of the notes carried a request that he repeated in a text message earlier that day to his ex-wife, Alicia. "Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL's brain bank," he said.
The request might have been deemed a quirk had it not tallied with the unusual method of Duerson's suicide. He shot himself in the heart.