With 22 days left before the return of Oklahoma Football, we are moving right along in our daily Countdown to Kickoff. Today’s lineup features two running backs who almost couldn’t be more opposite from each other. One of those backs is the storied Marcus Dupree, an imposing physical specimen who ran with power and speed. The other is Quentin Griffin, a tailback whose diminutive stature and deceptive moves fooled defenses for years.
I’ll get things started with Marcus Dupree, aka ‘The Best That Never Was’.
In 1981, Marcus Dupree was one of the most if not the most highly recruited high school football player ever up to that point. Coming from the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, he was a 6’2”, 225 pound marvel on the football field. For a running back, he was unlike anything most seasoned coaches had ever seen, and it wasn’t just because of his NFL-ready frame. He was fast, and not only for a guy his size. No, Dupree was fast by anyone’s standards.
The average high school players didn’t have a chance at slowing down Dupree, and the good players hardly fared much better. After an intense recruiting battle, Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Sooners eventually earned the highly coveted tailback’s commitment.
As a freshman, Dupree took center stage at Oklahoma in 1982, rushing for a total of 1,393 yards and 12 touchdowns on 163 carries, despite not starting for the first seven games. To this day, His 239 rushing yards in the Fiesta Bowl is still a Fiesta Bowl record, and perhaps the most amazing part of that game is that he came into the contest 10-15 pounds overweight following Christmas break. Unfortunately, his Herculean effort wasn’t enough for the Sooners to take down Arizona State.
After Dupree’s freshman season, the story takes a gradual nosedive. He dealt with injuries early on in 1983, and after suffering a concussion against Texas, he disappeared from the Norman and resurfaced in Mississippi, where he revealed his plans to transfer from Oklahoma to Southern Miss.
When he learned he’d have to sit out per transfer rules, Dupree left the Golden Eagles’ program and signed a deal with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers in 1984. A devastating knee injury would end his USFL career after the first game of his second season. Though he would make a professional comeback and get a chance to play in the NFL in ‘90 and ’91 with the Los Angeles Rams, time and injuries had already taken their toll on his body.
Marcus Dupree’s incredible story was famously documented by ESPN’s 30 for 30 film ‘The Best That Never Was’. If it wasn’t for his career’s unfortunate downfalls and setbacks, he had every tool to become the greatest of the greats.
From a Sooner who had all the measurables and ability to another Sooner who wasn’t the most assuming player off the bus, let’s talk about Quentin Griffin, the other notable No. 22.
From 1999 to 2002, Griffin did damage to opposing defenses. At 5’7, they couldn’t see him coming, but it wasn’t all because of his height. He had a knack for bursting through the line or around the edges and reaching full speed quickly. If you weren’t directly in front of him by the time he reached you, chances are good he made you look silly.
Griffin was an integral piece to the puzzle during Oklahoma’s championship run in 2000. Along with Josh Heupel, Griffin led the way and set the tone on offense, giving the Sooners a dynamic weapon on the ground and in the passing game. And to this day, his six rushing TDs against Texas in the 63-14 Red River rout are a single-game program record.
In 2002, two seasons after winning the national championship, Griffin would go on to have his career-best campaign, rushing for 1,884 yards and 15 scores, and being named First-Team All-Big 12. On Oklahoma’s all-time lists, he ranks fourth in both all-purpose yards (5,275) and all-purpose touchdowns (51).
In the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected the ever-popular Quentin Griffin. For two seasons, he was a solid back for the Broncos before being struck with an ACL injury in the middle of the ‘04 season. That injury ultimately spelled the end of his professional playing career.
Quentin Griffin was one of the first fan-favorites in the Bob Stoops era, and that is why he’s affectionately known around Norman as Q. Sometimes it’s the smallest players on the field who play with the biggest hearts.
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