I have been out covering spring sports the last two nights. Tuesday I caught a county tournament baseball game, which was a scintillating 15-0, five inning win. Last night I had a first round girls tennis sectional match, which was a 5-0 wipeout. But I’m not complaining. It was dry and warm both days, which has been unusual for this spring.

When I got home last night everyone was already in bed, so I flipped around and came across the Marcus Dupree 30 For 30, The Greatest That Never Was. It was already 20 minutes in, but I was captivated for the next hour and forty minutes. Between the old Big 8 highlights,1 hearing Charlie Jones call the 1983 Fiesta Bowl, lots of Barry Switzer goodness2, and Dupree’s legendary flameout at the beginning of his sophomore season, it had a good base to work with. And then there was Dupree’s legendary fashion sense.

I vaguely recalled Dupree ending up in the USFL, but I don’t think I ever watched a USFL game. So I forgot he was actually pretty good at first. Then came the career ending injury and inevitable financial troubles that left him in a sad spiral, sitting at home in Mississippi, fat and alone like an old man at just 23. At the midway point, as he walked through his grandmother’s tiny home that was filled with the trophies and photos of his glory days, it was thoroughly depressing. Another promising athletic talent wasted.

But then came the comeback, which I did not remember at all. He went to an NFL game in 1989, got a spark, and thought, "I want to do that again." In three months he dropped 100 pounds and the next year he was on the field with the Rams. Nuts. He played for two years, until the Rams cut him before the 1992 season, despite leading the team in rushing in the preseason. He wasn’t bitter or upset. He was, rather, proud that he got his shot and took advantage of it. He claimed control of his life and remained in control. Since his career ended he’s worked steady, if unspectacular, jobs as a truck driver and helping clean up the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill.

The best part of the film, though, was the closing scene. The producers sat Dupree down at a computer and had him watch his grainy highlight videos from high school. Mostly silent, all in black-and-white, he galloped through hopeless, hapless defenders. He sat in silent awe, as if he had forgotten just how good he was and why there was such a fuss about him. It seemed absolutely genuine, and thus was completely charming to watch.

We can all talk about athletes we saw as kids who never made it, for any one of a thousand reasons. I always thought Marcus Dupree never made it. Turns out he did make it, both in football and in being a normal, decent human being.

After that, I watched this lovely, mini-documentary about Morganna Roberts, aka The Kissing Bandit. It’s a little NSFW-ish, but is a must-watch for anyone who grew up watching baseball in the 1970s and 1980s.

  1. KU in lighter blue jerseys with a bird on the helmet, Colorado in their UCLA colors, OU fans throwing oranges on the field. Was there a better part of going to a Big 8 school than throwing oranges on the field? If you went to a bottom-feeder school, you threw your oranges ironically in the first couple weeks of the season before OU and Nebraska came to town and hung 70 on your team. 
  2. I hated Barry. Still do, to be honest. But that dude was the best.