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November 20, 2010

Cover Boy Nearly a Bulldog?

"See that speed?  I tell you, he's in the franchise range - like Herschel."
- Miami Hurricane assistant coach Christ Vagotis in 1981 after seeing one of Marcus Dupree's acclaimed runs 

In the spirit of all the recent commotion concerning a college football program perhaps paying big money for a big-time superstar...

My first introduction to Marcus Dupree was when my father brought home a magazine for me from Barnett's News Stand in Athens (remember that place?), featuring the Oklahoma Sooner star on the cover.

Being an ungrateful eight year old, I asked him why he didn't buy one with a Georgia player on the cover. 

"I didn't see one," said my dad.  "Anyway, this guy Dupree might be the next Herschel!"

Over the next nearly 30 years, I hardly heard the name Marcus Dupree, that is, until last week when I was captivated by his story recounted on a ESPN 30 for 30 - "The Best That Never Was."  If you haven't seen the two-hour documentary, you absolutely must.  If anything, you'll be amazed by the footage of Dupree as a high schooler in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

A 6-3, 225-pound high school senior, who was clocked running a 4.3 in the 40, Dupree combined tremendous speed with power, similarly to Herschel Walker.  Some believed the highly-recruited Dupree was actually better than Walker - maybe the greatest athlete ever out of high school. 

It would be later revealed Dupree was, in fact, the greatest player money could buy.  

Unbeknownst to many is how Dupree [seemingly] almost came to UGA to become a Bulldog...on two different occasions! 

In 1981, following Georgia's win over Ole Miss in Oxford, Dupree was in the Bulldogs' locker room, where an assistant coach introduced him to the sophomore Walker. 

The two celebrated backs exchanged small talk before Herschel declared, "You come up to Athens.  We'll have fun together." 

"Maybe we could play in the same backfield," replied Dupree. 

Primarily because he liked running out of the I-formation (Georgia's offensive scheme at the time), Dupree kept the Bulldogs on his "list" until he narrowed his school choice to a final six.  The nation's most sought-after recruit eventually decided to enroll at Oklahoma.

Playing in only 16 games for the Sooners in 1982 and 1983 - many of those while injured or seeing limited playing time - Dupree rushed for a combined 1,513 yards, gaining 7.2 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns. 

Following a loss to Texas in early October of 1983, an unhappy Dupree mysteriously left Oklahoma never to return to the Sooners - or, for that matter, collegiate football - again.

A little over a week following Dupree's departure, apparently, the sophomore back was once again flirting with the idea of becoming a Bulldog.  In a press conference, Coach Vince Dooley stated that Marcus "...had some interest in Georgia..."  UGA, along with Southern Miss and Mississippi State, was one of three schools Dupree evidently considered transferring to from Oklahoma.

Eight months removed from Herschel leaving early for the USFL, the Walker-less Dawgs would've likely welcomed Dupree with open arms.  Georgia had yet to establish a primary tailback to replace Walker; four different players had led the Bulldogs in rushing for each of its first four games of '83 - none of them gaining 100 yards.   

Eventually, Dupree would enroll at Southern Miss, where he would ironically never play a down of football.  Apparently, the move was never intended for Dupree to get back into college but, instead, for the star running back to leverage himself into professional football.  

Alas, Dupree never turned out to be another Herschel Walker, not even close. 

Would things have turned out differently if Dupree had enrolled at Georgia for the Fall of 1982...or even later in 1983?

That's merely one of many questions difficult to answer regarding the underachieving yet extraordinary football career of Marcus Dupree. 


Anonymous said...

As always, great historical piece. I remember Dupree thinking about GA in high school but not the second time. If I remember correctly, rumor had it he didn't go to GA because he would be l;eaving "mama" kind of why Herchel stayed in GA and didn't go to Clemson or Southern Cal. I didn't see the 30/30 but will definitely try to check it out. Thanks.

Deanna said...

So what was the part of the story that made him "the best that money could buy?" Did it turn up that he had taken money from an Oklahoma booster or something?