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Last Saturday night Marcus Dupree, 19, the newest and richest member of the New Orleans Breakers, flew with his team into Oakland. It was as far away from his Philadelphia, Miss, home as he had ever been. "Things are moving fast again," he said.
A few hours earlier the Breakers had given Dupree a five-year, $6 million contract, making him the first underclassman to join the USFL since U.S. District Judge Laughlin Waters ruled on Feb. 27, in a case involving University of Arizona punter Bob Boris, that the league's rule forbidding the signing of players with remaining collegiate eligibility constituted a boycott in violation of the law.
Dupree had dropped out of Southern Mississippi University in January, after the NCAA had ruled him ineligible until the 1985 college football season. "I figured I might as well try [to go pro]," Dupree said.
To sign him, the Breakers had to compensate the New Jersey Generals, who held territorial rights to Dupree. The Generals received New Orleans' first-round draft choice in 1985 and a player to be named later. The Generals also wanted to give the Breakers a player with a guaranteed $140,000 contract. Says Breakers owner Joe Canizaro, "The league office had to intervene. Marcus himself didn't want any players moved because of him."
The Los Angeles Express, who seem intent on signing all available talent these days, had reportedly made overtures to Dupree. "But he was ours," says Canizaro, and at 10:45 a.m. last Saturday, Dupree and his mother signed a contract at the New Orleans Hyatt calling for a $1.1 million signing bonus, with about 60% of that money deferred, and a graduating salary scale over the five years. "If at any time Marcus is cut—and he can be cut—then he'll forfeit the money for the remaining years of the contract," says Breakers president Randy Vataha. Dupree would also lose the remaining payments on his signing bonus.
"That was a business decision," says Canizaro, "nothing against Marcus." It was a business decision prompted by questions of character that had arisen about Dupree, who abruptly left the University of Oklahoma five games into last season. He had been called "the finest freshman running back in Oklahoma history," by coach Barry Switzer at the end of the 1982 regular season, and a malingerer by Switzer after rushing for 239 yards in the 1983 Fiesta Bowl, even though he sat out half of the game because of a sore left hamstring.
Canizaro flew Dupree to New York in a Learjet three weeks ago "to feel him out, see what he was like. He called his mother and little brother [Reggie, 11] back home in Mississippi, from the plane. Twice. I felt he deserved a chance because of his desire to play, his love of his family and what I thought was a raw deal from the NCAA."
On Saturday, Feb. 25, a handshake agreement was reached between the Breakers and Dupree's representative, Ken Fairley. A problem arose last Friday. "It dealt with the deferred bonus," says Canizaro. "I thought we had lost Marcus."
Finally, Fairley and Dupree got together with Vataha and Canizaro at a Mr. Gatti's pizza parlor in Picayune, 60 miles north of New Orleans. While Vataha drew the contract up in longhand, highlights of Dupree's most impressive runs as an Oklahoma Sooner were appearing on a TV set in the place. "People started coming up and asking Marcus for his autograph," says Vataha. "And the scary thing is, after this contract is up, Marcus will be only 24 years old."
"Marcus could be the best running back ever," says Breakers coach Dick Coury. At 6'1", 222 pounds, Herschel Walker, who was Dupree's high school hero, is a hugely muscled, tremendously fast runner. At 6'3", 238 pounds, Dupree is a hugely muscled, tremendously fast cutback runner. He didn't suit up for the Breakers' game with the Oakland Invaders on Sunday, which New Orleans won 13-0, but he'll play this Sunday in the Superdome against the Memphis Showboats. Things are, indeed, moving fast again.