Bryce Paup is one of the greatest defensive players in Buffalo Bills franchise history.
He developed his stellar work ethic during his farming days in Northern Iowa. It eventually seeped into his playing career on the gridiron.
Paup terrorized opposing quarterbacks and recorded a league-leading 17.5 sacks in his breakthrough 1995 NFL season,
To nobody’s surprise, this unheralded sixth-round draft choice earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-Pro honors that year.
It was quite evident that Paup honed his craft by learning from Hall of Famers Reggie White and Bruce Smith.
Now, Bryce Paup is sharing his knowledge and molding young men as a college football coach.
Paup’s legacy as a defensive menace will live in the hearts of Bills Mafia forever.
Bryce Eric Paup was born to parents Byron and Harriett in Jefferson, IA on February 29, 1968.
Paup is the youngest in a brood of four. He has two older brothers, Brad and Marty. They have an older sister Michelle.
Paup’s and his brothers’ duties at the farm included pulling weeds, operating the fanning mill and high-clearance sprayer, constructing ditches, sewing and tossing 50-pound bean bags, and cleaning beans.
Paup spoke highly of his dad’s work ethic. He remembered when he worked from sunrise to sunset – sometimes even longer – every single day.
That work ethic rubbed off on Bryce Paup from there on out.
Byron Paup told SI.com’s Austin Murphy in 1994 his son Bryce always wanted to become a farmer when he grew up.
He changed his mind and fell in love with the gridiron several years later.
Paup was a staunch Dallas Cowboys fan growing up in Northern Iowa. He followed their games on television.
When Paup made it to the NFL more than a decade later, playing against the Cowboys was one of the most surreal experiences in his pro football career.
Brad and Marty Paup taught their youngest brother how to play hard-nosed football in Northern Iowa. They never gave him an inch and roughed him up constantly.
“I took the wrong end of a lot of fists,” Bryce Paup told The Buffalo News in 1995. “If your head was sticking out, it got hit. They were hard on me, but it made me tougher.”
Paup attended Scranton High School. It was so small Paup graduated with just eighteen other students in 1986.
He met his future wife, the former Denise Dunlop, at a church retreat in Jefferson, IA in high school.
The tongue-tied Paup asked an emissary to bring a note he wrote to her. When he drove his 1975 Camaro the following weekend, he pulled over next to the car that Denise rode. He mustered all his courage and asked her if she would go to the dance with him.
To Paup’s astonishment, she said yes.
“He was real quiet, sensitive, and caring,” Denise told Murphy six months before Bryce Paup’s second year with the Buffalo Bills in 1996.
Bryce and Denise eventually married in 1990.
Only nineteen boys tried out for football at Scranton High School. Paup worked out with many of them at a makeshift weight room that used to be a chicken house at his family’s farm, per SI.com.
Paup told Brian Gaynor he also ran on gravel roads to prepare him for the grind on the gridiron.
Paup was so strong he knocked three Bridgewater-Fontanelle players out of a game in high school. His mother Harriet promptly dubbed him a “one-man crew.”
Despite Bryce Paup’s best efforts, he’d remain a virtual unknown among college recruiters.
It would take a bold move by his girlfriend to open a door for him in the college football ranks.
College Days With The Northern Iowa Panthers
For some reason, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones left Bryce Paup off their radars. They politely rejected his coach’s letters.
The Northern Iowa Panthers and Graceland Yellowjackets were the only in-state college football teams that showed interest in him.
Paup never forgot the snub from the Hawkeyes and the Cyclones. He used that as motivation to establish an All-American career at Northern Iowa.
It was his then-girlfriend Denise and her friend who helped him secure a spot on the Northern Iowa Panthers football squad.
According to SI.com, the two girls were freshmen at the university who approached then-Panthers assistant football coach Terry Allen and another coach at a local pizzeria.
They told the two coaches that they should seriously consider recruiting Bryce Paup.
Allen told them to tell him he should show up as soon as possible.
Then-Panthers graduate assistant and eventual head football coach Mark Farley took a liking to Paup the moment he walked in the door.
“I remember when he walked the door…he was 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, and I remember I said, ‘We’ll take him,'” Farley told The Northern Iowan’s Jacob Potter in November 2019.
Unheralded Bryce Paup exceeded expectations during his four-year stint at Northern Iowa.
He had 298 total tackles, 15.0 sacks, and six forced fumbles for the Panthers from 1986 to 1989.
As a senior in 1989, Paup earned All-Gateway Conference honors and became a Third-Team Division I-AA All-American.
During his four-year stay in Cedar Falls, IA, the Panthers averaged seven wins per season.
Northern Iowa won the Gateway Conference championship and reached the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs in 1987.
Bryce Paup would defy the odds once again as a sixth-round draft pick who became the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in his pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers made Bryce Paup the 159th overall selection of the 1990 NFL Draft.
The Packers drafted him mainly because he could play both inside and outside linebacker. He could also play as a down lineman when the situation called for it, per Murphy.
Green Bay assistant coaches also lauded Paup for his unselfishness. He was the type of player who’d do anything the coaching staff asked him in a heartbeat.
Happy Birthday to former Packers LB Bryce Paup. I think he was about 6 years old in this pic. pic.twitter.com/xerhj9lJQE
— William®️🧐 (@MiltownBucky) February 29, 2016
When Paup’s Green Bay Packers took on the Oakland Raiders in his rookie year in 1990, he knew he had finally arrived.
When Paup saw Raiders players Howie Long, Willie Gault, and Bo Jackson, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Paup walked behind Long in the tunnel. The thought of tapping him on the shoulder and asking for his autograph crossed his mind. Instead, he got to know Long better after that.
“It’s one of those weird things,” Paup told Potter more than two decades after the fact. “It was kind of surreal, like, ‘I’m finally here.'”
During Paup’s rookie year with Green Bay in 1990, he developed a tight bond with roommate and defensive lineman Lester Archambeau.
According to Murphy, the two rookies constantly worried about their chances of staying with the Packers. The two eventually became best friends during the three years they spent together in Green Bay.
When the Packers traded Archambeau to the Atlanta Falcons at the end of the 1993 NFL season, Paup admitted to SI.com he had never been that close to another teammate because he didn’t want the same thing to happen again.
A year after Archambeau’s trade, he told SI.com that Paup’s personality hadn’t changed one bit.
The two men grew closer thanks in part to their faith. When Archambeau told Paup about some of the problems he dealt with when he moved to Atlanta, the latter sent him a faith-based book so he could cope better.
Paup encouraged Archambeau to pore over scriptures from Proverbs and the Book of Mark to give him some newfound perspective.
Paup’s parents believe their youngest son’s faith helped him become successful in the pro ranks.
“It’s the good Lord that got him where he is,” Harriett Paup told SI.com in 1994.
One of Bryce Paup’s regrets as a member of the Green Bay Packers was missing out on a chance to sack legendary quarterback Joe Montana.
Montana, who started for the Kansas City Chiefs, didn’t suit up. His backup Dave Krieg filled in for him.
Paup sacked Krieg three times.
“There was one game where we played the Kansas City Chiefs; I was with the Packers and Joe Montana was a scratch,” Paup told Potter more than two decades later. “I kind of wish he would’ve played because I sacked their quarterback (Krieg) three times that game.”
Packers LB Bryce Paup tries to pull down Cowboys WR Michael Irvin during a 38-27 Dallas win in the 1995 NFC playoffs. pic.twitter.com/1kGC5wlwGm
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) January 11, 2015
For Paup, going up against his favorite childhood team, the Dallas Cowboys, topped them all, per Potter:
“It was a little weird playing against them. We went down and played at Dallas Stadium. That’s when I was in awe because I always watched them on TV.”
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ Then I was actually there playing in that stadium. That’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.”
The Packers were a below-average team in Bryce Paup’s first two pro seasons. They averaged just five wins per season from 1990 to 1991.
After Green Bay acquired quarterback Brett Favre in 1992, they strung together three consecutive nine-win seasons and reached the Divisional Round in Paup’s last two years in Green Bay in 1993 and 1994.
Paup signed a three-year $7.6 million contract with Buffalo when he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 1994 NFL campaign.
Then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, the same man who acquired the great Brett Favre in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons two years earlier, told SI.com his failure to keep Paup was “a miscalculation.”
“They didn’t think I was that good,” Paup told Murphy at a Buffalo sports bar in March 1994.
He carried a chip on his shoulder against the Packers from that point onward.
Paup also told SI.com the Packers thought he amassed 32.5 sacks with them from 1991 to 1994 mainly because he fed off Reggie White.
Paup shrugged off the notion, insisting he had to finish the plays.
This week's Tasker's Teammate was former #Bills LB and 1995 Defensive Player of the Year Bryce Paup.
— One Bills Live (@OneBillsLive) May 26, 2021
Paup took his game to another level when he played with the Bills from 1995 to 1997
The 6’5″, 247-lb. Paup got his first flattop haircut before his second year with the Bills.
He told SI.com he wanted to change his image and look meaner. It all began with his hairdo.
A tougher and meaner Bryce Paup was a vital cog in new Bills offensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
While the Packers moved Paup around their defense constantly, the Bills wanted Paup to focus on just two things: line up over the tight end and pressure the quarterback all game long.
Bryce Paup wound up becoming a defensive menace and made his mark as one of the greatest Buffalo Bills players of all time.
Paup had 17.5 sacks in the 1995 NFL season. Six of those came against quarterback Jim Harbaugh’s Indianapolis Colts.
“We were trying to block him with a tight end,” Harbaugh, currently the Michigan Wolverines head football coach, told SI.com during the 1994 Pro Bowl. “We quickly realized that’s not the way to block Bryce Paup.”
It came as no surprise he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-Pro honors that year.
Paup told Potter he never expected to win that accolade. He didn’t think much about it considering guys like Reggie White, Deion Sanders, and Bruce Smith were the perennial contenders for the award.
He also earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods during his Buffalo tenure.
Bryce Paup never forgot his first trip to Hawaii with other gridiron greats in 1994 – his last year with the Packers.
“You get to go to Hawaii for a week to practice and play with guys that, some of them, when you were a kid you watched growing up,” Paup told The Northern Iowan in 2019. “Pretty cool to be on the same field as them. Seeing Bo Jackson, (Jerry) Rice – got to hit him a couple times.”
During his first Pro Bowl appearance as a member of the Bills, the teetotaling Paup spent most of his free time in Honolulu with his family. Instead of checking out the nightlife with other Pro Bowlers, he spent time with his wife and kids at Sea Life, per Murphy.
The Bills averaged nine wins per season during Bryce Paup’s three-year stint from 1995 to 1997. They never made it past the Divisional Round during that stretch.
Paup spent his final three years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings.
He had 85 solo tackles and 9.5 sacks during that span.
Bryce Paup retired from the National Football League at the end of the 2000 NFL season.
He had 545 combined tackles, 298 solo tackles, six interceptions, 15 forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries in his 11-year NFL career.
Paup considered the competition his fondest memory on the NFL gridiron.
“Just the competition,” he told Potter in November 2019. “It’s one of those things that there’s nothing like it. The closest thing I’ve done compared to the NFL is driving a NASCAR car. That kind of rivaled it.”
Despite his fallout with the Packers in 1994, he told Gaynor that Green Bay is still the ultimate mecca for pro football:
“Other players say they have great fans,” Paup said. “I have done everything at Lambeau: I was a player, I’ve sat in the stands, I’ve tailgaited, and I was an opponent. It’s a great place to play; the absolute best.”
Bryce Paup and his wife Denise have six children: Alex, Nathan, Rachel, Hailey, and twins Paige and Lauren.
Paup’s son Alex suited up for the Northern Iowa Panthers as a defensive back.
The Northern Iowa Panthers inducted Bryce Paup into their Hall of Fame in 2001.
Paup has become a successful football coach after he retired from the NFL.
Ironically, he never had any plans of pursuing a coaching career after he hung up his cleats.
According to USA Football’s Eric Moreno, a local high school coach from De Pere High School, went to Paup’s house in Wisconsin. He wanted to ask him if he was interested in a career in coaching.
However, Paup wasn’t home. It was his wife Denise who answered the doorbell. She told the local coach her husband would see him first thing in the morning.
He became the head football coach of the Green Bay Southwest Fighting Trojans high school football team in the spring of 2007.
Under Paup’s leadership, the Fighting Trojans had a 22-14 win-loss record in four seasons. They also won their second playoff game in school history in 2009.
Paup returned to his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa, as defensive line coach in March 2013.
Paup became the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ defensive line coach in the winter of 2017. He resigned after just one season because he reportedly was on the lookout for a coaching job in the National Football League.
Paup returned to the Northern Iowa Panthers as their defensive line coach in August 2018.
He admitted to the Des Moines Register’s Dargan Southard that the vagabond life of a football coach had taken a toll on him and his family.
When he took the Minnesota job, he slept on an air mattress for eight months while his family remained in Iowa. During that time, he stayed in one house with eleven other coaches. Paup’s family was only able to join him in his seventh month on the job.
They eventually rented a house in Minnesota before Northern Iowa came calling again. When Paup returned to Cedar Falls, IA, he stayed with an alumnus before waiting for his family to rejoin him.
He uses his experience playing with Hall of Famers Reggie White and Bruce Smith as valuable teaching points to his defensive linemen.
For instance, Panthers defensive end Elerson Smith told The Northern Iowan that Paup talks about how Smith would somehow burst through gaps despite his 270-lb. frame.
Paup also tells his players how powerful the late Reggie White was. He taught them White’s trademark hump move that they eventually added to their defensive arsenal.
“You bring a guy like Bryce Paup in – he played here, he knows the people here,” Farley told The Northern Iowan. “He knows how to mentor and guide the players…he just does it the way that he became a player – he just grinds at it every day.”
Paup ultimately uses his platform as a football coach to teach his players about life, per Moreno:
“My job is basically teaching people life through the game of football. There are so many lessons that football, so many great things the game can teach you that directly apply to lessons in life”
“I appreciate the responsibility that coaching has afforded me in helping prepare people to be successful in life.”
Paup became a member of the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.