"Are you who they say you are?"
That's the question asked of an unassuming truck driver at the start of "The Best That Never Was," ESPN's latest offering in its excellent "30 for 30" series of sport documentaries.
The answer to the question is yes: the burly but quiet guy behind the wheel of that truck is Marcus Dupree, who, in 1981, was football's next big thing. How the one-time high school phenom went from being bound for football greatness to driving a truck is the focus of this fascinating documentary that debuts Tuesday at 8 p.m.
The film, directed by eight-time Emmy Award winner Jonathan Hock (who might be best remembered for the IMAX film "Michael Jordan To The Max") shows how, in his prime, Dupree was not only an amazing athlete, but something of a rallying point for residents of his town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. In the 1960s, shortly after Dupree's birth, the town was the site of a horrific act of racially-motivated violence: the murders of three young men helping to register black voters in Philadelphia. Yet Dupree, who is black, was such an amazing athlete in his youth that he drew fans of all races. This divided town became united behind this incredibly promising young man.
Yet, as so often happens, that great promise was never fully realized. I won't spoil the film, but it does show how injuries, bad advice and other factors gradually led to the dismantling of Dupree's football career. In fact, until watching the film, I'd never really heard of Dupree.
That's too bad, because "The Best That Never Was" shows us a man who, indeed, had the strength, speed and power to evolve into something special.
However, were the film to focus just on Dupree's rise and fall, it would be a fairly typical sad sports story. The aspect of the documentary that I found jaw-dropping were the interviews with the present-day Dupree, a wise, matter-of-fact 46-year-old who regards his story with wistfulness and disappointment -- but not bitterness or anger. He knows what he could have achieved; knows what happened in his life was wrong but hasn't let that define, or destroy, him.
And, despite the sad tale it tells, that makes "The Best That Never Was" somewhat inspirational.
You can view the trailer for "The Best That Never Was" below.