ESPN 30 for 30: The Best That Never Was (2010)

Directed by Jonathan Hock

I hate to admit it, but I recently went through a movie watching funk, but alas I have bounced back with viewings/reviews on back to back days! Okay, the real confession here though is the fact that I am trying to clear my plate of all obligations previously held, which includes this marathon which is a mere two films from its conclusion. That being said, I was also quite excited about finally getting to this particular film, which had received the highest praise from a friend of mine who had seen a good part of the series. Add to the fact that the film was directed by the same man who helmed the addendum feature Unmatched, which was a moving tale of a talented man who threw it away, a storyline which is not far off from the tale of The Best That Never Was, Marcus DuPree.

Marcus DuPree comes from the infamous Mississippi town of Philadelphia. Named after the city that helped bring this country freedom, it was a center of racism and opposition to the civil rights movement, claiming the lives of three Freedom Riders in 1964, right around the time when Marcus DuPree was born. As it was, Marcus seemed born to play football. He was a physical freak of nature, being big enough, strong enough, and talented enough to star in high school football as an 8th grader if he could have, to star as an NFL running back as a freshman in college if allowed. So why have we never heard of the best high school running back to ever play the game? Why have those in my generation never seen the greatness of Marcus DuPree? After seeing this film, I would almost have to chalk it up simply to fate.

Hock’s film is not unique or groundbreaking, but the story it documents sure is, which makes it a compelling ride from start to finish as I was taught who DuPree was, and why I should never forget who he was. Based on the highlight films alone he was the best I had ever seen, but listen to anyone who saw him play in person and they will tell you another tale: he was the best there ever will be. His speed paired with his freakish size for a running back was a unique combination. But the way he was handled at Oklahoma, and the recruiting process that proceeded it, coupled with his home life made for a perfect storm, creating enough turmoil in DuPree’s journey to derail it. But unlike someone like Maurice Clarett, someone I definitely thought of when presented with this story, DuPree was much more good natured, which makes this almost an American tragedy given the popularity of the sport.

Football was all he ever knew in Mississippi and it was clear he was not going to college for an education, but it begs the question of how are young men being handled in the world of college sports? I don’t know how long this type of thing has been going on, but I imagine a very long time. A hot button issue today as to whether these players should be paid or if high schoolers should be allowed to jump straight to the pros (more in basketball than football on that one though), this type of thing is only coupled with recruiting violations, but much worse, life crippling treatment of these young men as spoiled, entitled gods and as pieces of meat sent out there to win games and make money for the schools and coaches. Rarely does the game have anything to do with fun, enjoyment or love anymore, and the players that do approach it that way are often the ones who know they won’e make it to the next level, just along for the ride.

My personal opinion is that sports today are inundated by a negative attitude which is far too serious and far too cocky. I would rather see somebody smile after a great play than stare down their opponent. DuPree had a good attitude. He wanted to make it like anyone else, true, but the way his career ended, and then he fought back for the simple enjoyment of the game sets him apart from anyone else I’ve ever seen. It was a shame to watch how his career never panned out given his talent, and many might say that it has happened all the time, but DuPree was different, he was special, and there is no denying that. DuPree is what makes this film, because Hock delivers a pretty run of the mill, straightforward presentation. But sometimes the story can carry a documentary.

*** – Very Good


1 Comment

  1. Nice of you to get this out there.

    It's good to see these stories come up and presented in such a way. The documentary on DuPree was pretty moving and showed quite a lot about all involved and the responsibilities we hold for our youth.


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