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Marcus Dupree: Greatest Back We Will Never Know

Nov 10, 2010 – 12:09 AM
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Robert Karpeles

Robert Karpeles %BloggerTitle%

Marcus Dupree 30 for 30In the small town of Philadelphia, Miss., a large sign once stood tall that read "Welcome to Philadelphia, Home of Marcus Dupree."

Today, it no longer exists.

In ESPN's latest '30 for 30' documentary series, 'The Best That Never Was', Dupree is the focus, depicting him as a gifted athlete who made a bad choice which forced him down a path to oblivion.

Back in 1983, in Dupree's sophomore season in college, he left the University of Oklahoma as the top back in the nation because he wasn't getting along with his coach, Barry Switzer. He eventually ended up in the USFL, until a knee injury sidelined him for more than five years. He played two seasons for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams until retiring for good.

The documentary continues to reiterate the point that Dupree was one of the most gifted athletes and physical specimens not only in his time, but ever. A few bad turns, one big mistake, and some complacency from Dupree cost him a career that many throughout the film said could have been the greatest in football history.

The film begins present day, showing Dupree back in his hometown, working as a truck driver. He attends a football game at his old high school, the Philadelphia High School Tornadoes.

ESPN the shows footage of Dupree's high school days. Dupree was so feared that opposing teams would squib kick the football on kickoffs just so Dupree wouldn't be able to kick return the ball for a touchdown.

Dupree is then highlighted as the poster child for bringing a racially divided town together. He scored 87 touchdowns total during his playing time in high school, breaking the record set by Herschel Walker by one. After agreeing to sign with the University of Texas, Dupree reversed his decision when Billy Sims of the Detroit Lions flew in via private jet to court him for the University of Oklahoma.

After a slow start in his freshman season, Dupree ended up dominating at Oklahoma, becoming the best running back in the country.

But going into his sophomore year, a Sports Illustrated story pit Dupree against his coach. Dupree's lazy habits in practice clashed with the ideals of his coaches, who preached all-out effort. Even though Dupree was putting up stellar numbers, injuries were limiting his play. A concussion he suffered against Texas in the fourth game of his sophomore year led Dupree to quit at Oklahoma.

The film never gets to the bottom of why Dupree quit. Dupree attested that he didn't want to waste his time playing for a coach he didn't get along with. A few years later, Dupree ended up in the USFL with the New Orleans Breakers, a year later they moved to Portland. Less than two years after that, Dupree suffered a bad injury that cost him his hopes of being a highly-touted NFL draft pick.

Dupree said he received only about $300,000 of his $6 million contract to play for the Portland Breakers in the USFL.

In one of the more uplifting parts of the film, Dupree, three years after his injury, decided to work out in his mother's garage in order to make it back to football. Dupree shows the camera his run-down garage and the chair where his mother would watch him so he wouldn't commit suicide. Dupree's grit eventually landed him with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams where he played in 15 games in two seasons before being cut.

At the end of the film, Dupree says he regrets leaving Oklahoma. He shows book scraps of his playing days, and he gets emotional while watching film of himself in high school.

While truly a remarkable comeback, the focus of the film remains throughout: the story of an unbelievably gifted athlete who was haunted by a bad choice. Dupree could have been up there with the greats.

We will never know.
Filed under: Sports