Duper doesn't dwell on Delaney's death. There have been disturbing reminders of mortality throughout his life. His given names, Mark Kirby, are those of a cousin who also drowned. Two of his Dolphin teammates have died in accidents since he joined the team. One of his best friends from college, an Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother, was killed in a car crash last summer. Duper, always matter-of-fact, shrugs. "You have to believe that everything happens for a reason," he says.
It was at Northwestern State that the nickname Super Duper caught on. Some of Mark's high school friends had used it first, but back in Moreauville there was confusion over whether Duper was really Mark's last name. "The name is actually Dupas [pronounced du-PAH]," says Mark's brother A.C., 30, a salesman at a Radio Shack in Miami. "But when my father went into the Army, before World War II, the guy that signed him up didn't believe there was such a name. He said, 'I'm going to make you Duper.' " Walter Dupas thus became Walter Duper on all his government records. "They wouldn't let my wife cash my paycheck if she used Dupas," he says. All four of their children have Duper on their birth certificates, but all were also listed in school as Dupas by officials who knew better. Van Laborde, Mark's high school track coach, says, "It was around his sophomore year that he wanted to start calling himself Super Duper. I told him, 'There's no way, man. Your name's Dupas. That's what you are, son.' "
"I am Mark Duper," insists Super.
At Northwestern State, Duper's persistence quickly earned him the respect of Williams. He would attend spring football practice each day after finishing his track workout, and would sneak into live scrimmages. "I finally had to forbid him from wearing pads," says Williams. "I was worried if anything happened the track coach might kill me."
"I said that I'd make the pros, and everybody told me I was crazy," says Duper. "But I was willing to work for it. I've always thought big and gotten what I wanted. I knew I wasn't crazy."
It might be an overstatement to say that David Shula made Mark Duper a great receiver, because others helped—not least, Duper himself. Duper is the one who bought his own projector and watched game films at home, the one who spent the summer of '83 drilling under David Shula's guidance, the one who stayed after practices that fall with a rookie quarterback named Dan Marino, working on routes.
But David Shula, four months younger than Duper—both are 25—was his dedicated mentor. As a receiver at Dartmouth and for one season with the Colts, David had great hands, solid technique, sharp patterns and no speed. What he saw in Duper were great hands, poor technique, sloppy patterns and too much speed to control. "He'd get down in his stance, then stand straight up before starting to run," recalls David Shula. "One day I told him I could beat him in a 20-yard sprint—which is ridiculous—I run a 4.9 40. So we got down in position and started, and Mark stood straight up. He beat me, but not by much. Afterward I said, 'All right, how would you do it in a real race? Show me a track start.' He got down and blew off the ball so fast, people were ooh-ing and aah-ing."
Under the guidance of Shula and veterans like Nat Moore, Duper learned to stay low, to keep his arms closer to his sides, to run precise routes and to control his speed and use it to the greatest advantage. "I told him the trick is to look like you're running full speed—and then accelerate," says Moore. Duper learned to size up defenses so well that Tom Keane, Miami's defensive backfield coach, says, "He probably reads coverages as good as any receiver in the league." Duper and Marino broke into the Dolphin starting lineup together in the sixth week of the 1983 season, and a passing attack that at the time ranked 28th—dead last—in the NFL has soared ever since.
These days the compliments flow. "The only way to cover Mark is to double him, put a rotation on him, hit him at the line," says Keane. "Even that won't necessarily work, and it can open up things for the other receivers." And how: Mark Clayton, Duper's wideout buddy, has caught 40 passes this season, 10 for touchdowns; Moore has caught 28. Adds Buffalo's Ferguson, "What makes Mark so good is that he's strong enough to shake off a jam at the line and quick enough to run away from people."
Ferguson's assessment of Duper's personality holds up, too. "He was always quiet and low-key, the kind of guy who was always happy. If he made a mistake he'd say, 'No problem. Let's try it over.' " Duper is solid, from his tree-trunk thighs to his concern for his loved ones. He takes good care of his girl friend, Renee Jones, who grew up just off Highway 1 in Natchitoches and who has decorated his Miami condo with a collection of brass dolphins. Mark gave brother A.C. a condo in Fort Lauderdale last year. As a sign of his loyalty to Omega Psi Phi, he had the three Greek letters burned into his shoulders. "He said that was the only way to be a pure one," says Doris Duper. "They branded him with a hot iron."