Bronco Beat

Duane Dlouhy, Boise State’s 1980 national championship hero, dies after cancer battle

Duane Dlouhy, who caught the winning touchdown with 12 seconds left in the 1980 Division I-AA national championship for the Boise State football team, has died at 56 in Boise on Monday after fighting cancer.

Following a year of tests to determine what had been causing him internal pain and bleeding, he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in August. Though it became more and more aggressive, his final weeks were full of special moments.

Dlouhy had hoped to walk his daughter Demi down the aisle at her Boise wedding on July 1, but instead, an impromptu ceremony was held Friday on the rooftop at Saint Alphonsus.

“He was in a lot of pain, was in and out of lucidity, but when it came time to give her away, he delivered,” said former teammate Larry Alder, who was at the ceremony. “You can always rely on Duane coming through in the clutch.”

Two weeks before his death, Dlouhy and his son, Dustin, a former football player at Montana, went to Reno, Nev., to spend a weekend with about 15-20 former teammates. Even if they did not know whether it would be the last time they would see him, it was a gathering that meant a lot not just to Dlouhy, but all the former Broncos.

“It wasn’t sad it, wasn’t just a bunch of old guys trying to remember the glory days, because it really just felt like yesterday. We knew that play call. We talked about the 6 a.m. runs, the places we’d go after games,” said Joe Aliotti, the quarterback of the 1980 team. “We had people come from all over the country to be there, because Duane meant so much to us.

“We’re a family. It’s a special thing, and Duane was a special person.”

Dlouhy made three visits to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last year after his diagnosis, having his colon and rectum removed. It spread to his lungs by February, at which point there was hope it would stop, but soon after it was found to have also spread to his liver.

“What it’s done for me, it’s brought the rawness out in our relationship,” Dustin said in February. “I see how hard he’s fighting this, and it really makes me look back and appreciate everything he’s done for me. All the inspiration and motivation he gave me, he’s showing it.”

Dlouhy was married to his wife Debbie for 34 years and had three children: Dustin, Demi and Drue. Former teammate Michel Bourgeau called Dlouhy “just a great individual” that he was able to reconnect with in their post-football years through their children. Bourgeau was involved in the National Football Foundation, in which Dustin was a member of the first-ever honor society in 2007, and their daughters played NAIA volleyball at the same time.

“I remember just being basically cheerleaders together, supporting our daughters, getting to spend a week at the national tournament in Iowa in 2010,” Bourgeau said. “He cared deeply about his kids. You never think of the ways you might see old friends 30 years later, but he was the kind of guy you were always happy to see.”

In his four seasons at Boise State, Dlouhy had 58 regular season receptions for 743 yards and was an All-American honorable mention as a senior in 1981.

He played for the Broncos’ basketball team after his college football career ended, and after failing to make the roster with the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the USFL’s Arizona Wranglers, he coached tight ends at Boise State from 1983-86. He spent the last 10 years working for Pita Pit, where he was the director of construction at its United States headquarters in Coeur d’Alene, his hometown.

“It’s hard to do it justice, to sum up what he meant, but being there for his daughter’s wedding, that’s Duane — he was a fighter, he was quiet but he was tough, and he was just loved by everybody,” Aliotti said.

Handfuls of former teammates came to visit Dlouhy in his final days, to support him, and also to reminisce a bit. Alder, Ray Santucci and Kevin McDonald watched the 1980 highlight reel together last week, with Dlouhy remembering a game when McDonald, Aliotti’s backup, had to come into a game and completed a pass to him. Sure enough, seconds later, that play came on.

“That was a special moment,” Alder said. “I’m going to remember that, and I think especially when it comes to him, I’ll think of how he lived the last month of his life — with a lot of character, a lot of courage and a lot of class.”

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn