Former Philadelphia Eagles’ strong safety Andre Waters always went all out on the gridiron.
Since Waters’s high school days in Pahokee, FL, his objective had always been to knock the stuffing out of the ball carrier. He hit them as he could.
Waters’s hard-hitting style soon made headlines for the wrong reasons. He ended the pro football career of Washington Redskins placekicker Jess Atkinson in 1988.
Waters then took out Minnesota Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon’s knees and incurred a hefty fine from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1990.
Before long, Waters earned the nickname “Dirty Waters” for his on-field antics.
Waters embarked on a coaching career in the high school and football ranks after he retired from the NFL in 1995. Unfortunately, his dream of becoming an NFL coach never came to fruition.
Sadly, Andre Waters passed in a tragic fashion in the fall of 2006. Eagles Nation will always remember him for being one of Buddy Ryan’s hardest-hitting defensive backs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Early Life and College Days with the Cheyney Wolves
Andre Maurice Waters was born in Belle Glade, FL on March 10, 1962. He was the ninth of Willie Ola Perry’s eleven children.
Perry and Andre did farm work together when he was growing up in Florida. She considered him an obedient son.
Perry taught her children to become God-fearing individuals. She attended church regularly and even missed some of Andre’s pro football games because of her spiritual commitment.
Perry’s spiritual influence on Andre became evident when he became an adult. He read Biblical scripture regularly until his tragic and untimely death in 2006.
Andre Waters attended Pahokee High School in Pahokee, FL. He played football for the Pahokee Blue Devils.
Pahokee High School (Pahokee, FL)
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) January 28, 2022
Waters, who eventually played twelve seasons in the National Football League from 1984 to 1995, experienced the ill effects of concussions on the gridiron at an early age. Sadly, they took a massive toll on him after he retired from football.
Early Signs of a Future Problem
According to The Palm Beach Post’s Hal Habib, Waters felt woozy in the first half of the Muck Bowl game against the Blue Devils’ rivals, the Glades Central Raiders. Waters felt so dizzy that he had no idea how he made it to the locker room at halftime.
That wasn’t surprising considering Waters’s aggressive nature on the football field. He just didn’t hit. He hit his opponents hard.
“He used his head a lot,” former Pahokee Blue Devils head football coach, Antoine Russell told The Palm Beach Post in 2010. “When we were in school, because I knew our insurance was not too good, I tried so many times to stop him.”
Andre Waters’s hard-hitting style earned him some recognition from some college football scouts. However, he decided to commit to Cheyney University, a historically-black university in Pennsylvania.
Waters played safety for the Cheyney Wolves from 1981 to 1983. He earned three consecutive First-Team All-PSAC selections during that time.
Andre Waters rose from obscurity and became one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs of Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League for a decade.
Pro Football Career
The Philadelphia Eagles signed Andre Waters as an undrafted free agent prior to the 1984 NFL season.
Waters made a tremendous first impression on Eagles fans after he scored a game-winning touchdown on an 89-yard kickoff return against the Washington Redskins in his rookie season.
New Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, a defensive mastermind, loved Waters’s aggressive style so much that he made him his starting strong safety for the next eight seasons.
Waters formed a fearsome safety duo with Wes Hopkins from 1984 to 1993. They became a part of a stellar defensive unit that also featured linebacker Seth Joyner, defensive tackle Jerome Brown, and defensive end Reggie White for the next several years.
The Eagles’ defense simply smothered the opposition. They led the NFL in running, passing, and total defense in the 1991 NFL season. Although Philly won ten games that year, they inexplicably missed the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
Andre Waters’s ferocious hitting style made headlines during his twelve-year pro football career.
Waters prematurely ended Washington Redskins placekicker Jess Atkinson’s pro football career in 1988. Waters inadvertently landed on Atkinson’s ankle during a game between the Eagles and Redskins.
Ironically, a Washington, D.C.-based TV station assigned Atkinson to interview Waters several years later. The former was astonished at the latter’s sincerity when he apologized for ending his NFL career, per The Palm Beach Post.
Waters tackled Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jim Everett in 1988, which gave birth to the “Andre Waters Rule.” The rule prohibited defensive players from hitting quarterbacks above the waist if they are still in the pocket.
Waters was never known for his ballhawking skills as a defensive back in the pro football ranks. In fact, he finished his 12-year NFL career with just 15 interceptions.
However, Waters made a living by tackling and stopping the opposition from moving the sticks. Waters had 925 tackles from 1984 to 1995. That twelve-year run included six straight seasons with at least 100 tackles.
Waters told his agent Jim Solano that tackling had become his motivation to put food on his family’s table.
“If I don’t do this, I’m going to be out of a job and I can’t feed my family,” Waters told Solano (via The Palm Beach Post).
Before long, Andre Waters earned the nickname “Dirty Waters” from Arizona Cardinals legend and broadcaster Dan Dierdorf because of his gung-ho style of play.
Unfortunately, some fans and pundits thought Waters crossed the line far too many times in terms of hitting the opposition.
Jeff Fisher, Waters’s defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator with the Eagles, told Habib in 2010 that Waters was just following orders. However, Fisher implicitly stated those orders didn’t necessarily come from him.
Eagles linebacker Byron Evans was Waters’s best friend on the Philadelphia roster. He acknowledged he and Waters did some things on the gridiron they later regretted. However, he merely echoed Fisher’s sentiments. They were just following orders.
When The Palm Beach Post asked former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan to comment on Fisher’s and Evans’s remarks, he said, “I don’t have any idea.”
Ryan also told Habib that Waters played within the rules and did not put himself and his opponents in danger on the football field.
Just Following Orders
Ironically, Waters claimed he and the other Philly defensive backs followed Ryan’s orders to hit the opposition with reckless abandon in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1994.
“Buddy told us to knock the snot out of their noses, stare at them when they’re on the ground, and don’t blink,” Waters said.
One of the low points of Waters’s NFL career was incurring a $10,000 fine from commissioner Paul Tagliabue for taking out Minnesota Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon’s knees during the 1990 NFL campaign.
Waters’s lawyer, Jerrold Colton, told The Palm Beach Post some 20 years later that his client was remorseful for his actions. Simply put, it was a flashback to Waters ending the career of former Washington Redskins placekicker Jess Atkinson in 1988.
Colton told Habib that Waters never liked the “dirty” label he received when he played in the National Football League. Waters felt any bush league terminology associated with him was disrespectful.
For all the flak Andre Waters received as a defensive back, he had an immaculate record off the gridiron.
According to Habib, Waters displayed a sharp fashion sense, loved working with children, and acted generously toward his inner circle.
Waters also didn’t ask a young Eagles teammate to pay for rent when the latter stayed with him during their time together in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Eagles averaged nine wins during Andre Waters’s ten-year tenure in the City of Brotherly Love from 1984 to 1993. They made the postseason four times during that decade-long stretch and never made it past the NFC Divisional Round.
Philadelphia Eagles (1984-1993) pic.twitter.com/wonLbiAi0d
— Random Philly Athletes (@philly_athletes) July 8, 2022
When Buddy Ryan became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 1994, Andre Waters joined him in the Grand Canyon State.
Ryan and Waters joined the squad in its first year as the Arizona Cardinals. They had been known as the “Phoenix Cardinals” for the previous six seasons.
Waters had just 21 combined tackles and one forced fumble in 19 appearances for Arizona from 1994 to 1995. The Cardinals averaged just six wins per season during that two-year period and extended their postseason drought to thirteen years.
Hard-hitting Andre Waters retired from the gridiron following the 1995 NFL season.
Post-Football Life and Death
Andre Waters embarked on a football coaching career during his retirement years.
He served as the Morgan State Bears’ defensive backs coach under head coach Stump Mitchell in the 1996 NCAA season.
Waters then coached the South Florida Bulls in the same capacity under head coach Jim Leavitt from 1997 to 1999.
After Waters’s two-year stint with the Bulls, he became a coaching intern for the then-St. Louis Rams in 2000. Leavitt approved Waters’s endeavor on the condition he would return to South Florida’s practice field before the 2000 NCAA season kicked off.
The conflicting schedules forced Waters to choose the Rams’ internship, which didn’t amount to much. Waters was distraught after he failed to enter the NFL coaching ranks, per Habib.
Waters then served as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at the high school and college levels from 2000 to 2006. His stops included the Wharton Wildcats, Alabama State Hornets, St. Augustine’s Falcons, and Fort Valley State Wildcats.
Today would have been former #Eagles & #TecmoSuperBowl SS Andre Waters 59th birthday. The member of the Eagles 75th Anniversary Team & 12-year #NFL vet was lost in 2006 to suicide. It was revealed he dealt with CTE. The #NFL needs to step up and do more to help these players. pic.twitter.com/UAi9lJ202N
— SBlueman (@SBluemanTecmo) March 10, 2021
Waters became a Detroit Lions coaching intern while he served as the St. Augustine’s Falcons defensive coordinator in 2002.
A Desperate Decision
Sadly, Andre Waters took his own life on November 20, 2006. Diane Waters, Andre’s sister-in-law, informed The News & Observer’s Thomasi McDonald that he had shot himself in the head. Waters committed suicide in his Tampa Bay, FL residence. He was 44 years old.
Waters’s fellow Carolina Football Development League (CFDL) board member Bill Thomas told McDonald that Waters’s girlfriend left their house before the tragic incident. When she came back, she heard a gunshot.
Waters remained generous well into his retirement years. Thomas remembered Waters donating $5,000 to the CFDL so the league could purchase football equipment. It wasn’t surprising when the CFDL named its first team the Carolina Eagles as an homage to Waters.
Waters also told Thomas his dream was to launch a boys and girls club bearing his name. However, Waters regretted not having done that during his prime in the National Football League. He admitted such a massive undertaking was impossible when he retired from pro football.
Waters, a deeply religious man, remained spiritual until his untimely death. According to a report from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, investigators found “various religious reading materials throughout the residence.”
There was no suicide note. Instead, Waters left behind a notebook with a to-do list.
Waters’s nephew Avon, who was a high school football player at the time, told The St. Petersburg Times’ (now known as The Tampa Bay Times) Rick Scheiber in December 2006 that his uncle pored over Biblical scripture before he went out for his morning runs. When Waters came back, he’d read the Bible again.
Avon told Scheiber his uncle rang him up and told him he was feeling down on November 17, 2006. Avon sang one of Andre’s favorite gospel songs on the phone to help lift his spirits.
Andre Waters was born 60 years ago today…..a sad case of what CTE can do to athletes as he committed suicide in 2006 with CTE damage being key to his issues….Andre was a bad man on the football field..a hard hitter…but he paid a heavy price in the end sadly pic.twitter.com/hu6I6dZCBD
— PolyesterPalace (@PolyesterPalace) March 10, 2022
Waters laughed and seemed he was over his depressed state after his nephew sang the song. However, Andre gave Avon an eerie premonition. If he were to pass away, he asked his nephew to dedicate the high school football season to him.
Andre Waters was dead just three days later.
Renowned forensic pathologist and neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, whom actor Will Smith portrayed in the 2015 movie Concussion, studied Andre Waters’s brain after his tragic suicide.
Omalu told The Palm Beach Post the damage to Waters’s brain was comparable to 80-to-90-year-old individuals who have dementia.
“Football killed him,” Dr. Omalu told Habib in the fall of 2010.
Habib confirmed Waters had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disorder linked to repeated head trauma. Omalu also calls CTE “gridiron dementia” or “concussion-drunk syndrome.”
Omalu’s extensive study of Waters’s brain kickstarted other related research projects. This includes a registry where athletes promise to give their brains to researchers after they pass away. Retired Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas was one of those who pledged to the registry.
A Troubled Man
Buddy Ryan, Waters’s head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, coached a college All-Star team in Las Vegas, NV prior to Waters’s death. He asked his former safety to be one of his assistant coaches.
A dumbfounded Ryan never realized it would be the last time he saw Waters alive.
“We were laughing and talking,” Ryan told The Palm Beach Post in 2010. “I had no idea a few days later he would take his own life.”
Eddie Rhodes, Waters’s high school football coach with the Pahokee Blue Devils, told Habib that his former protege didn’t want other people to know about his ordeal with CTE.
— Peacemaker (@INDOE_RO) March 25, 2020
Waters’s niece, Terrica Walker, knew all about his depression. Walker stayed with him when he was the St. Augustine’s Falcons defensive coordinator from 2002 to 2005. She sometimes called him “my dad.” She also considered him a “high-functioning depressed person,” per The Palm Beach Post.
When Waters was in a good mood, he was an energetic and charismatic individual. However, Walker saw him sigh deeply far too many times when he woke up in the mornings. He was clearly depressed.
Walker told The St. Petersburg Times a month after her uncle tragically passed away that he never took depression medication or sought professional assistance. When Walker was depressed, Waters urged her to schedule an appointment with a psychologist. However, he never did that for himself.
A Cry for Help
Andre Waters dealt with several troubling issues in the years leading up to his death.
For four years, Waters had been involved in a contentious custody dispute with a Tampa, FL woman who was the mother of his eight-year-old daughter, Andrea. Waters submitted a paternity petition in 2002 so he could attain joint custody of his daughter, per The St. Petersburg Times.
Unfortunately for Waters, the woman and their daughter eventually settled in Arizona while he was coaching St. Augustine’s on the other side of the country in North Carolina.
A judge eventually granted shared parental responsibility to both parties in 2003. If the woman didn’t relocate to Florida within 60 days, Waters would have gotten sole custody of the child.
The provision compelled the woman to move back to the Sunshine State. She filed an appeal in 2004.
Waters’s other dilemma concerned his football coaching career. According to The St. Petersburg Times, Waters met with Philadelphia Inquirer sports journalist Phil Sheridan in the summer of 2006. The two men had known each other for years during Andre’s 10-year career with the Eagles.
Sheridan just wanted three minutes of Waters’s time. To his astonishment, the latter poured his heart and soul for the next three hours.
“I just needed three minutes and Andre talked for three hours,” Sheridan told Scheiber in December 2006. “He just started pouring his hear out and I wound up with a notebook full of quotes.”
Missing the Game
After Waters’s failed coaching internship with the St. Louis Rams, he told Sheridan he felt despondent when other coaches took exception to his insights as a former NFL player.
Waters wanted to break into the NFL coaching ranks, but he couldn’t quite get there. He remembered former New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson getting a job as a linebackers coach with the New England Patriots in 2000. Johnson had played for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when the latter was the defensive coordinator of the Giants in the mid-to-late 1980s.
🥳 Happy Birthday Eagles great Andre Waters! From 1986-1991, Andre lead the Eagles in tackles w/789 & his 14 INTs was 3rd most for Philly. Waters was a key member of the late 80s & early 90s Eagles teams that won 10+ regular season games for 5 straight years. #FlyEaglesFly #RIP pic.twitter.com/TraN1LQ862
— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) March 10, 2020
Regrettably, Waters didn’t have any contacts in the NFL coaching fraternity during the time he wanted to break into the profession.
Sheridan also told Scheiber that Waters dealt with tremendous physical pain all over his body during his retirement years. Waters also knew which particular hit from his NFL career caused a certain injury.
Andre Waters aptly summed up his sentiments for football for Sheridan during their three-hour-long interview.
“When you’re playing football, it tastes like honey,” Waters told Sheridan in the summer of 2006. “And it goes down like a sour lemon when you’re not.”
Waters’s inner circle detested his portrayal in the 2015 movie Concussion.
In a 2015 piece Habib wrote for The Palm Beach Post, Colton was livid and enraged after watching the scene in which Waters (portrayed by actor Richard T. Jones) approached Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson for help. Duerson eventually turned down Waters’s pleas for assistance in the film.
Colton thought the scene was an inaccurate depiction of his late client and close friend. He claimed Waters had never met Duerson, who committed suicide almost five years after Waters’s death.
Colton resented the film depicting Waters as a street person who was in dire financial straits. He felt it would have been better if the movie had portrayed his late friend as a football coach who had experienced memory lapses after he retired from the gridiron.
For his part, Duerson’s son Tregg was outraged that the movie implied his father had the opportunity to prevent Waters’s death by accepting his pleas for help. Instead, the film showed Duerson turned them down.
Byron Evans, Waters’s best friend with the Eagles, considered his late friend like a brother. He even called Waters’s mom Willie Ola Perry to check on her every week.
Andre Waters left behind his girlfriend and his three children. According to Scheiber, Waters and his ex-wife had two kids together.
Waters is buried at Foreverglades Cemetery in his hometown of Belle Glade, FL. He is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team.