ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy did not know Markus Paul long, but he quickly learned Paul's impact went beyond being a strength and conditioning coordinator.
Paul died Wednesday evening after being rushed to a local hospital on Tuesday after suffering what the team termed a medical emergency in his weight room office. Less than 24 hours after Paul's death, the Cowboys had to play the Washington Football Team at AT&T Stadium, and they suffered their second-worst loss of the season 41-16.
"Markus was a special man," McCarthy said. "He was definitely someone, when I think of him, obviously had a lot of success in his professional life; but if you really look at the mark of a man, it's more about significance than success. I can't tell you the impact he's made on our football team, really the whole organization. I obviously only worked with Markus since January, but it was clearly evident through these last 48 hours, 72 hours, what he means to everybody.
"The team meeting [Wednesday] night was powerful, and obviously we're going to miss him. It's unfortunate for his family, but we had the opportunity to celebrate him last night as a team, and we'll definitely continue to do that. His memory and impact has touched a lot of people and will always live with us."
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith said Wednesday's meeting at the Omni Hotel in Frisco, Texas, was emotional and celebratory and helped players work through their emotions.
"Just to get the opportunity to celebrate his life, his impact, everything he instilled in each individual that he touched," Smith said. "Five-time Super Bowl champ, successful player, coach and strength coach. Just a great mentor and a servant leader. I learned a lot from him in his time here, and a lot of people got to share their stories on how he touched the individual."
Players wore decals with the letters MP on their helmets. Coaches had the decals on their hats or shirts. After finishing their pregame warm-up, players, coaches and staff took a knee in prayer to remember Paul before heading to the locker room. Before the game started, there was a moment of silence and remembrance for Paul.
Paul, who joined the Cowboys in 2018, had been an NFL assistant since 1998, starting with the New Orleans Saints, and won five Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and New York Giants. He also had a two-year stint with the New York Jets in 2005 and 2006, before spending 11 seasons with the Giants.
He was a safety for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1989 to 1993, starting 15 of 71 games, following an All-American career at Syracuse. While with the Bears, Paul was a teammate of Washington head coach Ron Rivera.
Dallas wideout Amari Cooper called Tuesday a "surreal day." When he arrived at The Star team facility, he headed to the weight room to pick up a cherry drink and beet juice when he saw players standing around.
"It just didn't look like what every other day looks like," he said. "They were all just standing there with certain looks on their faces. I was like, 'What's going on?' And then someone told me."
Tuesday's practice was canceled after Paul was rushed to the hospital after being treated by Cowboys' medical personnel. On Wednesday, the Cowboys went through a 75-minute workout, but his loss was felt almost immediately.
"Every day, he was the one leading stretch, so we're lining up for practice to get ready to stretch and you get that reminder that he's not here with us anymore," Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "It definitely was tough. We just got to lean on each other and help each other get through this tough time."
McCarthy and the players did not use the loss of Paul as an excuse for their defeat on Thursday.
"A lot of heavy hearts," McCarthy said. "But I can't say enough about our football team, about our players, the way they came out and started the game. We had a number of adverse things during the game, and we just didn't get it going to where we wanted to get it going in the second half. In times like this, you find out a lot about people. I can't tell you how proud I am of our football team. It's been a week I don't think any of us will forget."