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Marcus Dupree: From a Generational Talent to a Punchline

Oklahoma Sooners running back Marcus Dupree n action against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium during the 1982 season.
© Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

He could have been better than Bo Jackson, Walter Payton, and one could be so bold as to say Jim Brown. Unfortunately, putting his name in the same sentence as those three is greeted with grins, shock, and probably some dirty looks.

His name is Marcus Dupree and he was once a man amongst boys. This story is about one of the greatest talents in a generation.

It’s sad when a player never reaches his full potential. In Dupree’s case, he showed serious glimpses of his promise as a freshman at Oklahoma. His career was covered in a somber ESPN "30-For-30" documentary titled “The Best That Never Was." What happened? Why is it that a running back who could have been one of the greatest ever disappeared into the fog? 

Creating a Generational Talent in Marcus Dupree

Marcus Dupree stood at 6-foot-3 and weighed 210 pounds. He reportedly could run a 4.4 40-yard dash…as a college freshman. For the younger generation, a counterpart to Dupree is former Alabama and now Baltimore Ravens running back Derrick Henry. Henry stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 215 pounds in his freshman year. He ran a 4.54 40 at the NFL combine. Henry has been showing off his great play in recent seasons. Dupree could have been better.

After Dupree’s freshman season where he totaled 905 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, he questioned his future with coach Barry Switzer. Marcus Dupree talked about it in 1983 with Sports Illustrated.

“I think I’ll play this year, but it could be my last. The problem is, it’s not like High School when coach Joe Wood made it fun. At Oklahoma, It’s not fun.”

Who would’ve thought Dupree would say this after being named a First-Team All-Big 8 (now Big 12) and a 239-yard Fieata Bowl rushing performance?


Trouble in Soonerland? Apparently not as running back Marcus Dupree and coach Barry Switzer pose happily on Monday.
© George R. Wilson / USA TODAY NETWORK

Many share the opinion that Dupree was lazy. According to OU Daily before the Fiesta Bowl, Dupree returned 10-15 pounds heavier from the winter break. Dupree wouldn’t listen to coaching from Switzer, which led to a reported divide between them.

Dupree left Oklahoma during his sophomore year, transferring to Southern Mississippi. Dupree, though, would not record a snap at Southern Miss. He left to go play with the USFL's Portland Breakers.

Los Angeles Rams running back Marcus Dupree arries the ball against the Washington Redskins at Anaheim Stadium.
© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Time to Go to the NFL

At the time, college players could not make an NFL team after their third collegiate season. Dupree waited until 1987, when he got his shot with the Los Angeles Rams as a 12th-round draft pick. Unfortunately, Dupree’s body couldn’t hold up. He only played 2 seasons, rushing for 251 yards and 1 touchdown as a Ram. Dupree was viewed by many as the next best thing. But he truly is the best that never was. 


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