Dave Duerson described regrets, conflicts and emotional pain in an interview he gave before he committed suicide last week.
The former Notre Dame and Chicago Bears defensive back was interviewed by author Rob Trucks Nov. 27 for an oral history project about turning 50 in America. Excerpts were posted Wednesday on the website Deadspin.
Duerson revealed that he was surprised to even be approaching 50.
"People would ask me about longevity and all that. I would tell them I was going to die at 42," Duerson said. "And I don't know what that was about, but, as it turned out, you know, I did suffer the greatest death, from my vantage point, two days before I turned 43.
"That was the death of my mom, you know, my absolute best friend, my biggest fan. But Nov. 28th of '03, when I turned 43, I did realize I was likely going to make it to old age and so, from a mental perspective, I needed to get ready for things like a slowing gait and losing my step and failed health and all those types of things, whereas I'd always envisioned that I was going to go at the top of my game.
"I've always pictured my exit at like 75 or 80 miles an hour, and I just happen to, you know, fall asleep at the wheel or something [laughs].
"When I turned 43, the first thing I thought was, 'Well, I'm still here.' "
Duerson turned 50 a day after the interview. On Feb. 17, he shot himself in the chest and died in his Florida home.
Duerson's family has agreed to donate his brain to Boston University's medical school, according to a report in The New York Times, for its study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative disease that has been linked to depression, dementia and occasionally suicide in former athletes.
He had filed bankruptcy in September 2010, but financial difficulties weren't the only thing haunting him.
Duerson said his biggest regret was a domestic violence charge he faced in 2006. He subsequently was forced to resign as a trustee at Notre Dame.
"My wife and I had an argument in South Bend, and, you know, I lost control for three seconds," Duerson said in the November interview. "That was a one-time event -- the most disappointing of my entire life, but one that will never ever be repeated."
He and his wife, Alicia, later divorced.
As for his playing days, Duerson said he was never comfortable with Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, even accusing the coach of using racist language against him.
"In the NFL, I was ostracized from Day 1 -- not by my teammates, but by my defensive coordinator," Duerson told Trucks. "I was drafted by the Bears in 1983. My first day walking into Halas Hall, I met Buddy Ryan. He knew I'd gone to Notre Dame and asked me if I was one of those doctors or lawyers. I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, you won't be here too long because I don't like smart n------.'
"I worked for Buddy for three years, and there was not a day that he did not remind me that I was not his draft pick, that he did not want me there. It was not motivational at all. The guy simply hated my guts, without question."
Ryan was reached by the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday and vehemently denied disparaging Duerson.
"That's bull," he said, according to the newspaper. "I can't believe he said that about me, because I was a great fan of his. He played great football. He was a great player. He started for us as a rookie. I don't know why he would say that. That sounds terrible."
Duerson claimed that a few years ago, Ryan asked him for a hug when they ran into each other at a card show. Duerson said in the interview that he interpreted it as the former coach's attempt at apologizing.
Duerson told Trucks that he used to consider himself a perfectionist, but an episode of Jay Leno's late-night show changed him.
"Jim Carrey was on, and Jay was talking to Jim about how awesome he was and about perfecting his roles and what have you, so he says, 'You get into a part and you live the part and you are an absolute perfectionist.' And Jim Carrey says, 'Perfection is God's business. I just try for excellence,'" Duerson said in the interview. "And I have to tell you, I dropped in front of the TV, man. I dropped to my knees in front of the TV and said, 'Look, I'm sorry. Forgive me for my arrogance.'
"I know God is real."
Hinting at the emotional issues that would ultimately be his undoing, Duerson said appearances can be deceiving.
"When people come up to me and they tell me, 'Man, I wish I were you,' I tell them in the same breath that in order to be me, you have to accept my pain," he told Trucks.