Super Bowl XXII, with all the usual trappings of overkill, is fast approaching, and punditry is once more in the air. For those so addled by the hubbub of prognostication that they simply don’t know what to think, here is some down-to-earth pregame analysis.
One key to the Denver Broncos’ game plan is to stop Dexter Manley, the Washington Redskins’ sack-happy defensive end, from embarrassing their superlative quarterback, John El-way. One key to the Redskins’ game plan is to stop Manley from embarrassing them by dropping too many pre-Super Sunday gauche mots.
Yes, Dexter, 29, specializes in wreaking havoc with both his body and his mouth. “It feels good cleaning clocks,” says Manley with brio. “That’s my job.” In pads the 6’3″, 253-lb. lineman is like a vision out of the quarterback’s book of Revelation, combining the speed of a sprinter (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) with the strength of a piece of earth-moving equipment (he bench-presses 500 pounds). Out of uniform, just flapping his jaw, he can be equally hard to handle. “He’s full of hell, with a lust for living” is how his agent, Bob Woolf, puts it. Manley, however, professes bewilderment. “People expect me to be outrageous,” says Dexter. “That bugs me. Why?”
Okay, let’s look at the evidence. Roll the Dexter Manley highlight film, please. There’s Dexter telling reporters, “I’d like to ring Joe Montana’s clock…hit Russ Francis in the mouth with a baseball bat…knock Walter Payton out of the game.” And now here’s Dexter away from the gridiron, giving himself a Mohawk haircut and proclaiming himself “Mr. D”; introducing himself to Gen. Alexander Haig at a dinner and announcing, “Mr. Haig, I’m in charge here”; offering to prove he is drug free by urinating into a cup on TV.
“He talks without thinking, but he’s not devious or nasty. He’s lovable,” says CBS sports announcer Brent Musburger. “In a world full of drab characters, he’s colorful.” His fellow Redskins have grown accustomed to Dexter’s outrageous ways. “He just does his own thing, and we’re used to it by now,” says Skins defensive tackle Darryl Grant.
Dexter himself says he’s changing. “I’m less wild this year. This season has been a roller coaster—a lot of ups and downs.”
Indeed this has been a sobering year for Manley—sobering in both the most profound and most literal senses. To start with, he tore a ligament in his right knee in training camp, providing him with his first intimations of football mortality. “I was scared,” he admits. “I kept thinking it was a career-ender.” Then he had to cope with his baby daughter’s serious bone disorder. And finally he faced up to his alcoholism. “Just being in [alcohol] treatment brought a lot of stuff out,” says Manley, who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily. “I thought I was fine. But people kept saying there are some pieces of the puzzle missing.”
The emotional puzzle that is Dexter Manley began to take shape back in Houston, where he was the youngest of four children born to Carl Manley, a chauffeur, and his wife, Jewellean, a nurse’s aide. “I always felt alone, a black sheep, like I didn’t get enough attention,” says Dexter. “I was a ‘mistake,’ my parents told me. That’s why I am the way I am now.”
Though outspoken, boisterous and constantly craving attention, Manley managed to avoid serious trouble growing up in Houston’s rough Third Ward. “My dad wouldn’t allow that,” he says flatly. “I was afraid of him.” Never particularly affectionate toward his son, Carl Manley became enraged when Dexter, then a high school senior, married his pregnant girlfriend, Stephayne Baker. Dexter says he wanted his son, Derrick, now 10, to carry his name, but his father would not be appeased. Then, two days after the heavily recruited Dexter left for Oklahoma State, Carl died. Manley’s sense of abandonment was complete. “I had nobody to communicate with anymore,” says Dexter, whose first marriage ended in 1980. “Nobody to guide me.” The drinking began.
Dexter’s college career as a linebacker was lackluster, but his speed and strength impressed the Redskins enough to choose him in the fifth round of the 1981 National Football League draft. In his rookie year he met his wife, Glinda, now 29, at a stoplight. He was in his gold Mercedes, and she was in her black Honda Prelude. “He toots his horn and speeds off,” she says. “I catch up with him at the next light.” They went for a drink, and Dexter spent the next hour or so telling Glinda, who had just moved to Washington from Chicago, how important he was to the Redskins. “I thought, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ ” she says now. “He was full of it. He still is.”
Dexter and Glinda married in 1984 and had Dexter II a year later. Then, in 1986, their daughter Dalis was born with fibrous dysplasia, a rare disease that prevents bones from forming properly. When doctors noticed that her right leg was malformed, they advised the Manleys that it should be amputated. They refused and, in desperation, turned to a faith healer-evangelist, the Rev. Frederick Price of Los Angeles. While Price was visiting Washington, the Manleys took Dalis to see him. He placed his hands on her leg and ordered, “Satan, be gone.” That afternoon, X rays of her leg showed bone growth, and doctors now believe the little girl’s leg will develop normally. “God did it,” says Dexter, a born-again Christian. “The Rev. Price was the instrument.”
Dexter’s own knitting together began last spring. Since college his drinking binges had been building toward some kind of disaster. Then, one night in March, he staggered home after downing a dozen gin and tonics. The next day Dexter was so ill, Glinda had an ambulance rush him to the hospital. Dexter spent the next month in rehabilitation at the Hazelden Foundation, in Center City, Minn. “I don’t have a problem with booze today,” he insists. “I have a problem with living. Adjusting to life.”
Professionally, at least, Manley seems to be making the necessary adjustments. He and Glinda live in a three-bedroom redwood town house in Reston, Va., a comfortable Washington suburb. He has a four-year contract with the Redskins worth $1.6 million, and when that runs out he wants to go into broadcasting. He already has his own 10-minute, twice-daily radio show on Washington’s WWDC. For the moment, the show’s focus is sports, but Dexter would like to go beyond that. “If I could pick my next interview, it would be Gary Hart,” he says. “I’d ask him, ‘Have you committed adultery since last time?’ ” A little blunt maybe, but that’s Dexter. After all, the Redskins don’t pay him all that money for subtlety.
—Written by Jack Friedman, reported by Jane Sims Podesta