For two decades Philadelphia, Miss., (pop. 7,303) was best known as a racially torn delta hamlet where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, forming the basis of the movie Mississippi Burning. "This is a terrible town," the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said on the second anniversary of the killings, "the worst I've seen."
In the early 1980s Philadelphia gained a more positive civic distinction: It was the home of Marcus Dupree, one of the greatest high school football players in history. Dupree rushed for 5,283 yards and 87 touchdowns for Philadelphia High and even inspired a best-selling book, The Courting of Marcus Dupree, by Willie Morris.
The University of Oklahoma was supposed to be a mere way station before Dupree would take his Peterbilt physique to the NFL. As a freshman, in 1982, he led the Sooners in rushing and turned in a 239-yard performance in the Fiesta Bowl. But even though he had become a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, Dupree abruptly left the team midway through his sophomore season after repeatedly locking horns with coach Barry Switzer.
In March '84 Dupree signed a five-year, $6 million contract with the New Orleans Breakers of the USFL. After a respectable rookie season he blew out his left knee in the first game of 1985. Out of football for the next five years, he rehabbed in his hometown and finally made a valiant comeback with the L.A. Rams in 1990. Dupree's bum knee, though, limited his NFL career to two seasons.
Following a brief stint as a B-level pro wrestler ("It was actually pretty fun"), he returned to Philadelphia. By turns, he ran a sports bar, did some scouting for the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos, worked as a casino greeter and watched his son Marquez--who will enroll at Southern Miss in January--try to break Dad's high school rushing records. "Didn't even come close," says Marcus, smiling.
Last month Dupree accepted a job as the general manager of the Arena Football 2 League's Bossier City (La.) Battle Wings. Training camp doesn't begin until March, but Dupree's desk is already adrift in a sea of paperwork. "Getting players in here, scouting, overseeing the staff, trying to sell tickets, preparing the budgets--you name it, I'm doing it," he says. "It's a learning experience, but since it all has to do with football, it doesn't feel like work." --L. Jon Wertheim