Top photo credit: Getty Images-by Andy Hayt (Oklahoma vs Nebraska)
University of Nebraska vs University of Oklahoma
9. Marcus Dupree (1982-1983) All-American 1982
When you rank running backs at Oklahoma, and limit your number to the top ten, then only the ones on or after 1961, you have two problems that surface. First, you have more than ten players that could make a case to be included and justified. Second, in placing them in a ranking order, there are just too many categories that are so significant you cannot, without going to a personal opinion, discount them.
That brings me to my number nine pick, the fabulous Marcus Dupree. With Marcus, you undoubtedly have a superior physical talent, in the class of my number ten pick Joe Don Looney, and future picks Adrian Peterson and Samaje Perine. Add to the fact that Dupree came to the OU campus as a raw eighteen year old from Philadelphia, Mississippi, with a body that still had a layer of baby fat. His life experiences that had not wandered out of the city limits of the small Mississippi town and with this talent you had someone in need of a directional guidance counselor.
Unlimited talent that needed to be developed both physically and spiritually, Head Coach Barry Switzer first big failure as a father figure for a kid in conflict ended badly on the field for Dupree.
“He was the best player on the field. Earl Campbell was the only other guy I ever saw who was like that—physically ready, as a true freshman, to be the best player on a great college team. Maybe even ready for the NFL at that age.”
Coach Switzer was off on his assessment on Marcus when he arrived as the quote above was not the gospel. He was not physically ready, and the style of runner he was proved that. As of Earl Campbell as Barry mentioned, a runner of that style takes a beating and we have only to look at Campbell in a wheel chair to understand that. And to think he could have gone to the NFL at that age was preposterous. As he wasn’t ready physically, his mental make-up would have been the end of the young man. Many a high school kid has gone directly to professional ball be it basketball or baseball, and the mental aspect ruins any hope of a successful career in the sport. Coach Switzer, as much as he was trying to compliment Dupree, did him a disservice. Marcus Dupree was destined for failure at OU day one on campus with the situation he had to endure.
Over thirty years later, the Marcus Dupree experiment in Norman, turned out for the better. Today the big man is looked upon as a solid member of the Sooner family and a legend of significant proportion.
In the final analysis, Marcus figured it out, life that is, and is a now millionaire businessman with a fulfilling existence. The one thing we all must remind ourselves about Marcus Dupree is that he was, and is, a very intelligent man. Growing into a successful person often happens later in life, and Mr. Dupree is a prime example. He was a smart young man in his two years in Norman, abet with an immature mindset that needed more from the head coach and the program than what it was given.
In some aspects of my picking and choosing, as I have already mentioned, some players have gifts that others do not have. Watching this kid that looked somewhat out of shape run over opposing defensive players, or sprinting past them like they were standing still, was a sight never to be forgotten. In a game at Kansas I watch Marcus run over a defensive back like a fast tank taking the high ground. Marcus, as was Jo Don twenty years earlier, was always the best player on the field, and the fastest. His speed was deceiving, as you couldn’t put together his body look running over, around, and finally, past the last defender. Some players mature at different ages, and Marcus in his two years at OU, was still in the process of growing that body into a man, (unlike Samaje Perine, who came to OU, also as a young true freshman, but with a mature and older defined body that could pass for a thirty year old NFL veteran running back).
Dupree was literally run into the ground in the bowl game against Arizona State by Coach Switzer. Coach knew that he was ten to fifteen pounds heavier coming back from the Christmas break, yet used him to pound the Sun Devil’s line repeatedly in the first half of that game. Was it an oversight by Coach to do that, or was he going to prove a point to the young man. Marcus was then chastised by his head coach for not being able to go for a complete game, discouraging the young man to finally leave Norman during the sophomore season. Do not under-estimate the harm that Marcus had to feel from that humiliation he took away from that bowl game.
Switzer’s words after the Arizona State game might have been truthful, but not necessary and he threw the young star under the bus as we today say.
He told Marcus directly, “If you’d have been in shape, you’d have rushed for 400 yards, and we’d have won the game.”
This was after a performance that saw Dupree rush for 249 yards, a Fiesta Bowl record that still stands today, thirty-two years later. To be fair to Coach Switzer, he understands his actions regarding that game and how it shaped the short term mentality of Marcus. One must wonder how his treatment of Dupree affected his association with another Sooner great of his, Brian Bosworth. Switzer had a part in the creation of the “Boz” but that is another story. Barry’s second big failure in directing a young man I would say.
One thing people must realize, is that Marcus tried to run over people as a back, and he took severe punishment in games, especially the second meeting with the Texas Longhorns in his sophomore and last year at OU. That game was the end for him at OU. He was not protected as he should have been while at OU, in that he was not of the Steve Owens mold. He wasn’t designed to carry the ball thirty times a games. He wasn’t the best conditioned athlete and that was not his fault. His physical maturity took time which Coach and OU didn’t give. Mistakes were made and Sooner fans were denied the pleasure of watching an all-time great college player take it to the house in a final third or fourth season as a Sooner.