To most, the quintessential moment for former Boise State fullback Dan Paul occurred on Nov. 27, 2009. To his brother, Joey, that day wasn’t about a box score; more memorable were the flashbacks of football in the family’s backyard in Boring, Oregon.
The Broncos, 12-0 at the time and the eventual 2010 Fiesta Bowl champions, took on Nevada at Albertsons Stadium over Thanksgiving weekend. Twenty or so members of the Paul family flooded the stands, including his sister, Margaret Estrada, then in high school, and his parents, Scott and Peggy Paul. The family had cooked its holiday feast in a Mariott hotel.
Dan Paul had the unexpected day of his life: three catches, three touchdowns, each proving crucial in a 44-33 Bronco victory. For a fullback who spent most of his career dishing out bone-crushing blocks so star running backs like Doug Martin or D.J. Harper could run free, it was a day to remember.
Teammate Tommy Smith told the Statesman that the sidelines that day were jovial; everyone was excited to see Paul finally get his due, Smith said. Also on the sideline that day was Joey Paul, a redshirt freshman on the team who played one season for the Broncos before retiring due to concussions.
Each time his brother scored, Joey didn’t see No. 47 in blue and orange; he instead saw his big brother, who he had played countless backyard football games with over the years. He remembered how his brother never scored a single touchdown in high school because he was an offensive lineman. And now, here Dan Paul was.
“I felt like I was at home again, when he came on the sideline and I just gave him a hug,” Joey Paul said. “We were back in Boring, Oregon, just being brothers.”
Dan Paul was far more than a football player to those who knew him best. He was the best brother anyone could have asked for, his siblings said. Football just allowed more people to see how great he was.
Dan Paul, 30, died early Wednesday morning in his sleep at home in Corbett, Oregon, Joey Paul and Estrada told the Statesman in a phone interview. An autopsy on his body was inconclusive, they said, and full results might not be available for 12 weeks.
“He was my best friend. He was my big brother. I was his little brother. I’m just so proud and happy I get to say that and I get to be that for the rest of my life,” Joey said. “He made so many people friends.”
The brothers worked together at Paul Brothers Inc., a construction company; they had seen each other the evening prior. Estrada had just gotten married; she had last seen her oldest brother four days prior at her wedding. Her last interaction with him was a big hug and an, “I love you.”
The news of Paul’s death was shocking. There were no warning signs, his siblings said.
“We have zero idea,” Estada said. “And that’s what’s so hard.”
Tributes to Paul poured in on social media following the news of his death. Teammates shared their memories of him, each having a unique story. Many involved football, his grit and interactions with people around campus. After all, Dan was everyone’s friend, Estrada said. He was never too big for anyone.
That side of Dan, the 6-foot-1, 255 pound gentle giant, is what his brother and sister want people to remember him for.
“I mean it when I say he loved so big. Everything, life, people, he was so deep. He was so caring,” Estrada said. “He loved home. He loved his parents and his family. He loved every piece about it.”
In many ways, Dan Paul was a paradox. The beefy fullback who spent his time on the field crushing defenders spent his time off the field collecting vinyl records; according to his brother, Dan had a collection of more than 500 records and a wishlist for more. Dan enjoyed taking drives down country roads in his truck listening to the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty.
When he visited home, Dan didn’t parade around Boring, Oregon, a town of less than 9,000 people, as a “big man on campus.” Instead, he would lay in the bed of his truck, where he set up a mattress, and fall asleep outside watching the stars, Joey said.
“Daniel’s deep, man,” Joey said. “That’s just what was so cool about him.”
Dan Paul met his wife, Kati, at Boise State. Kati was a volleyball player; the two had a 15-month-old boy, Davy. Dan’s and Kati’s anniversary was July 11 — the day after Dan died.
“He did nothing small. He was big. He loved so big,” Estrada said. “He loved his soulmate.”
Dan Paul’s sudden passing caught everyone off guard. But if there is any, even the slightest, bit of consolation to be had, it’s that people get to share memories of a gentle giant who impacted countless people.
Dan was a “unifier,” his brother said. He was friends with everyone, even complete strangers. And, even in his passing, Dan is unifying people again.
“He was a champion of the underdog,” Estrada said. “He was everybody’s best friend in some special way. Everyone was special to him.”