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Greatest Sooner Running Backs-Number Nine, Marcus Dupree

Top photo credit: Getty Images-by Andy Hayt (Oklahoma vs Nebraska)

University of Nebraska vs University of Oklahoma

To qualify this ranking of running backs at Oklahoma, I have included only players that I have personally seen in person at the stadium or live on television.  I began watching Sooner football in 1958 and my remembrances go back to 1961.  With that, I have not included any player before 1961. This is the first part of a series of greatest Sooner football players by position.  Please comment on my lists and argue your best Sooner players.  There are no right or wrong rankings.   The lists, started with Joe Don Looney (10th best running back), will include offensive and defensive positions.  Statistics, abilities, and overall significance to the OU football program are all included in picking the ten, but when all things are equal, my personal preference is the tie breaker. 



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.


Marcus Dupree, 1982. Credit: Newscom


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.



Oklahoma Sooners at Texas Longhorns – Oct 8, 1983- Photo credit: unknown


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About Fred Pahlke

Fred Pahlke, an Oklahoma native has viewed over 10,000 sporting events in his 65 years. A season ticket holder of the Oklahoma City Thunder, former season tickect holder for the Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma City University Chiefs/Stars, he is an expert in both professional and college basketball and football. A high school athlete at Classen High School in basketball and tennis, he played amateur tennis after high school in the Missouri Valley Tennis Association. A graduate of Oklahoma City University, he taught in the public schools for 6 years before becoming a building administrator in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 31 years, 28 as the Principal of various schools in the district. He has guided various high school and college athletes in his time as an educator and coach. Fredsportsextra has recorded 101, 410 article views in its first ten months, from August 2015 through May 2016.

3 Responses to “Greatest Sooner Running Backs-Number Nine, Marcus Dupree”

  1. December 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    but in life he has made it……Everybody’s All American comes to a halt somewhere along the line………his football life was not as what it could have been but his life in this world has worked out better than most….He is loved by his family, he is loved by the Sooner Nation, and he is most importantly, respected by both.

  2. Robert Babb
    January 12, 2017 at 10:42 am

    While everything you shared is true, the thing you leave out is mystique. Because his career was cutt short, esp in the manner it was, it leaves his story open to a lot of speculation. When combined with his athleticism, it makes for Sooner legend. For this reason I believe he should have been a couple of spaces higher on your list.

    • January 12, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      I won’t disagree with you Robert. My placement has been troubling for me. Marcus has read this article and I think if you asked him he too would think he should be higher. As a gifted talent, he might be the best. We never saw the “man” Marcus Dupree at OU. Excellent observation Robert.

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