So I recently watched the 30 for 30 documentary on Marcus Dupree, “The Best that Never Was.”
It was very entertaining. He comes across super well, and as someone who should, but does not seem to, have a lot of bitterness. The story had everything:
- A marvelously athletic young kid who was naive (not unintelligent)
- A mom who wanted the best for her baby
- The “Reverend” Advisor who takes advantage of the family (why is it always a Man of God?)
- The football coach who was too hard on the “star”
So it got me to thinking about a few things:
- Too bad Marcus did not come around 20 years later
- Coaches are more ‘sensitive’
- Medicine is better (his knee surgery)
But what really got me thinking was how everyone said he would have been the best. Now this has been said before (for instance Len Bias was to be the next Jordan), but made me wonder. So I tried to rate him versus the closest or best running backs that I have seen in three areas: 1) Speed; 2) Moves; 3) Strength
- Earl Campbell – Fast enough, few moves, ran over everyone
- Walter Payton (in my opinion, the best of all time) – Fast, tons of moves, ran over a lot of people
- Herschel Walker – Fast, no moves, ran over some, but not as many as I would have thought. A related question is why didn’t Herschel’s game translate to the NFL?
- Bo Jackson – Arguably Dupree 2.0. Fast as heck, enough moves, although not as many as Marcus, and ran over EVERYONE (Jackson is the only sure thing when the phrase, “would have been the best” is used. May not have been #1, but showed enough to know that if the hip does not get hurt, he is surefire HOFer
- Barry Sanders – Fast, best moves or all time, never had to run over anyone as no one could stay in front of him. The one running back I remember that basically lived up to all the hype from college when he went to the NFL
The following is the two responses from very knowledgeable College Football Fans. One we shall call “Norman,” and the second hates Montana, so we shall call him “Wyoming.” Consider this a cheap way to create a 1000+ word post.
I loved that show. Marcus Dupree was in my freshman class at OU. I still remember going to practices and a scrimmage the week before school started, and he was all anyone could talk about. He was a man among boys without a doubt. That freshman season (really only half a season) was incredible. He was fast, but fast with the first step…no one could catch him (until he threw on 30 lbs over Christmas break).
A very sad story, though it is interesting that the show has reintroduced him to Oklahoma and fans there, who never really harbored any hard feelings toward him (I think he thought the whole state hated him for leaving). He’s at least back on the free dinner and autograph circuit a little.
The “reverend” part was especially nasty. The poor kid never had a chance with all the people talking in his ear, and not knowing who to talk to.
The question of the “best” is interesting. He was great. But Adrian Petersen was maybe as good as a freshman. The kind of guy you just throw a toss sweep and it’s 50-50 that he’ll go the distance. And OU had, not that long before him, Billy Sims and Joe Washington. Marcus wasn’t way better than any of those 3 guys. But those 4 are definitely the best ever at OU.
I would say that Herschel and Bo are the closest things to him. And he would have been every bit as good as Dickerson, probably better, had he stayed healthy. Campbell was just a punisher… He would have been way more exciting. I think Sanders may be the best ever, but he’s a completely different style. ( His son is a high school senior this year in Oklahoma City, and a top RB recruit… .)
I actually think that the pro game has changed a lot since the 80’s, and I’m not sure that the big back can dominate like they used to. Linebackers are bigger and faster. Ends are faster. Safeties are bigger and faster. Size helps, but you can’t run over people much anymore just because you are 225 lbs., so a guy like Dupree today would bulk up to his “natural” weight and play defensive end or tight end.
Why Herschel didn’t translate? Maybe his odd shuffling style (doesn’t pick up his feet much) meant he went down too easily? He was good, but not great in the NFL. And I think he could still play. I saw him on some show where he was saying he still does 5000 push ups and 5000 sit ups a day…and he looks like it.
And now Wyoming:
RBs in general are subject a lot of the same bias as QB’s. Obviously, with few exceptions, a great OL will make a better RB (see Shaun Alexander) vs. somebody great individually (such as Barry Sanders).
A few off the cuff observations:
· Herschel Walker: I see Walker in the same light as I do Bledsoe. The game underwent a dramatic change that made his personal physical build obsolete. Bledsoe when he first came into the league – tore it up. That’s because DL’s and LB’s hadn’t fully transformed to the athletic monsters they’ve become. So Bledsoe could drop back, set his feet and throw. Ask him to take one step right or left, and he regresses into a high school caliber quarterback. He can’t do it. Walker was same way – don’t forget he was awesome when he first entered the league – great size and speed. But that was when a RB only needed to make one cut and “go” – the athleticism of the defense made his lack of lateral movement a big disadvantage.
· Barry Sanders: hard to argue against this guy. The Elway of QBs and the exception to make first statement above. Put Sanders on any team, and he still puts up tremendous numbers. Years ago, I debated Barry Sanders v. Emmitt Smith with Michael Wilbon and Bryan Burwell. The argument against Sanders is too many runs for loss, danced behind line, didn’t hit the hole. The defense for that that the Lions line, coaching, WR’s, etc. were all so bad, that was a necessity. I believe if you put Sanders on the Cowboys during the Smith era, he would have had huge numbers. Had Sanders not retired prematurely, he easily would have cleared 20,000 yards. Hard to know what kind of WR or pass blocker he was, again, because line and team were so terrible. But put Sanders anywhere, and he’s elite.
· Surprised you don’t mention Emmitt anywhere – seeing as he is NFL’s all time leading rusher. Smith was a great fit for Dallas – exceptional at catching the ball out of the backfield, a great pass blocker as well – wasn’t an “ole” kind of guy – he’d stick his helmet under a linebackers’ chin which greatly helped the Dallas passing game. He was “quicker” through the hole than people give him credit for, and I do believe had great vision. He’s not in Sanders’ class. But look at how the Cowboys’ offense performed when he wasn’t in the game (the few times he was out for injury or contract) and it wasn’t nearly as good. When Emmitt held out, the Cowboys only scored 10 points against the Bills (and lost) and were thumped by the Redskins (thanks Wikipedia). He returns and they win 7 straight against good competition. Contrast that against Montana – when he was out – the 49ers never missed a beat – whether Jeff Kemp, Steve Bono, or anybody else was their QB. He retires, and Steve Young (who was a disaster in the USFL and a disaster with the Buccaneers) steps in and the Niners don’t miss a beat. Montana’s a joke. Curtis Martin is similar to Smith.
· Campbell: a flat out battering ram, run into the ground by an overzealous coach. I disagree with the assessment that he couldn’t play in today’s NFL. Jerome Better did it well. Big back, could hit with power, but nimble enough.
· Jim Brown: I’m surprised just by his historical prominence he doesn’t make the list. He was all time leading rusher until Payton exceeded him, and only played 12 game seasons for first half of career. Retired early – like Sanders. Only played 9 years. His last year he ran for over 1,500 yards – crazy. Averaged over 5 yards per carry for his career. Emmitt averaged a full yard less. If you normalize Brown’s stats to 16 games, he’s got at least 15,000 yards.
· Eric Dickerson: should have never left the Rams. Playing for John Robinson, the same coach at USC who mass produced Heisman Trophy running backs – plus had a great line with the Rams. Still had a few good seasons with Colts. But historically doesn’t get the due he deserves.
· Bo Jackson: it’s ridiculous to even discuss this guy. He never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, and he had some great highlight film worth stuff – but played, what, 4 or 5 seasons before getting hurt? Who cares. He’s only mentioned because of his Nike commercials. I see him as Herschel Walker 2.0 – big, great speed – but whereas Walker could make one cut and go, Jackson could make a second cut downfield – so had better feet. But can’t be considered an elite back.
· Marcus Dupree – I’ve only seen highlight footage of him – so hard to give a true assessment. Bo Jackson is probably the best comparison – both from size, speed, ability to make a cut down the field and ability to stay healthy. Sad story all around – from how the reverend treated him, to how Switzer treated him … everything. To have all that at 18 years old would be tough, regardless of who you are. Oklahoma did mass produce great backs – Joe Washington, Billy Sims, Steve Owens – but I have no context for how Dupree would stack up beyond the sheer, insane physical qualities he had.
· Walter Payton – I don’t remember enough of him to give a reasonable assessment. But you can’t argue with the numbers he put up, often on bad teams – although I think he generally had a decent-to-good line. Which Barry Sanders could never say.
· Tony Dorsett – I do remember more, the Cowboys were on television – great combo of size, speed, agility. Probably also doesn’t get his historical due.