Like many members of Super Bowl-winning Bears team, Dave Duerson still had a close bond with the city of Chicago. He was still popular enough that just weeks ago, his appearance at Steve McMichael's restaurant in Sandwich drew plenty of fans who just wanted to watch a Bears game with the legend.
Now, his death leaves fans remembering a player who played hard for his spot on the team, and earned four Pro Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl rings.
Duerson was a key part of the Bears' havoc-inducing defense. He notched five interceptions in 1985, and the next season he had seven sacks and six interceptions, his best career as a pro. He was named the NFL's Man of the Year in 1987 for his work with the Special Olympics and substance abuse prevention, and as a proud alumnus of Notre Dame, he worked tirelessly for his alma mater.
Former coach Mike Ditka spoke glowingly about the former player.
"When we drafted dave out of Notre Dame we knew what we were getting," Ditka said. "We were getting a heck of a football player and he was. He stepped in right away and we went out and won a Super Bowl with him. ... He was as good a defensive player as has ever played the game."
Both the Bears and the NFL remembered Duerson fondly. The Bears released a statement, saying:
“We are stunned and saddened to hear the tragic news regarding Dave Duerson," the Bears said in a statement. "He was a great contributor to our team and the Chicago community. Today is a difficult day for all of us who loved Dave. We’ll miss him. Our prayers are with his family.”
George Atallah, an official with the NFL Players' Association, tweeted his condolences, adding, "Dave Duerson was a leader. A player advocate. He was an NFLPA rep and exec committee member. He serves as a trustee for the NFLPA on retirement board."
Duerson recently took part in the 25-year reunion of the Super Bowl Bears, and talked about the bond his team shares with Chicagoans.
"We have a personal relationship with the people of Chicago," Duerson said. "As big as this city is, it's a small town for us."
There's no doubt that the 1985 Bears still have a hold on Chicago. That's why it hurts so much to lose one of them. Duerson's death makes him the second member of the '85 team to die. Like Walter Payton before him, Duerson's death was much too soon.