HERNDON, Va. — During his six seasons in the National Football League, Dexter Manley has gotten more publicity for his whim than for his wham.
That's not to say the Washington Redskins' defensive end doesn't pack a punch. The 70 sacks he has recorded since the league started keeping that statistic in 1982 are tops in the NFL, and he has sent more than one opposing quarterback off the field in search of his senses.
It's just that Manley, a lightning-quick, 6-foot 3-inch 257-pounder, is more likely to cause a stir with his quick wit--and even quicker lip--than his fast feet. Throw some unusual off-the-field antics and you've got a bona fide folk hero, more revered than the founding fathers here in the nation's capital.
--Manley knocked out Cowboy quarterback Danny White in the NFC championship game four years ago, and the Redskins knocked Dallas out of Super Bowl XVII. A week later, Manley was telling the media throngs that he probably would be the Super Bowl's most valuable player and guaranteed a Washington win. And the Redskins did win, 27-17.
--In 1982, he was arrested for impersonating a police officer and altering the registration on his Mercedes. He had worked as a county deputy in the off-season and failed to turn in his badge, and he changed the date on the temporary tags because the new one, from Texas where the car was registered, hadn't arrived yet.
--He showed up at training camp in 1983 with a Mohawk haircut and the new, self-imposed nickname of Mr. D.
--In 1985, he arrived for practice three hours late, drove his Ford Bronco onto the edge of the practice field, got out and raised a drinking glass in a toast to the Redskins. When a couple of teammates persuaded him to go home, Manley sped out of the parking lot, crashed into a 16-wheel tractor-trailer and totaled his car. He wasn't seriously injured and somehow passed an on-site sobriety test.
--Later that year, he told a Chicago reporter that he intended to knock Bear running back Walter Payton out of the game.
--During this season's holdout--he missed all of training camp and the entire exhibition season in a contract dispute--Manley said on a radio show that Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke was "a miser . . . the guy is very tight."
--The holdout didn't seem to hurt Manley's performance on the field--or in front of the microphones. He told San Francisco reporters before a game that he was going after 49er quarterback Joe Montana, who had recently come off back surgery, and wanted to "ring his clock." Washington won the game, but Manley was hampered by what he said were illegal crackback blocks by 49er tight end Russ Francis. "The next time I see Russ Francis, I'm going to hit him in the mouth with a baseball bat," Manley said later.
So you can't wait to hear what Manley has to say about the NFC championship game against the Giants Sunday in the Meadowlands at East Rutherford, N.J.?
Don't hold your breath, because Manley--believe it or not--is holding his tongue.
Most in these parts find this turn of events hard to believe. Every day this week, they have crowded around Manley's locker, turned on their television cameras and held up their microphones and waited-- hoped --for him to break the spell and jettison a load of jibes.
But Dexter is not budging.
He just stands there in his electric blue tights, a pink bandanna slung around his neck and that huge, contagious grin splitting his face, giving ridiculously meek answers that ring with the kind of tedium you'd expect from a high school coach on the eve of the big game.
"I'm nervous--I don't know if I really want to show up at Giants Stadium," he says, trying desperately to look serious. "I don't know if the other players will have to drag me out of my hotel room.
"They've beaten us twice already. We have to find out how to beat them. But right now, I don't think we can. We'll have to wait and see, I guess."
You get the feeling that this Mr. Humble routine wasn't Manley's idea. He's playing it just a bit too strong, you know.
The thing is, Coach Joe Gibbs and even Cooke himself have suggested that Manley choose his words more carefully on numerous occasions in the past . . . and it hardly ever even slowed him down before.
Has management asked him to refrain from mentioning what he has in mind for Giant quarterback Phil Simms' timepiece? Are there a lot of things he wants to say, but just isn't going to?
"Probably," he says with a wink.
But those pesky media types keep baiting him, waiting for that inevitable slip when the real Dexter Manley's provocations come flowing from this smiling impersonator's mouth.
"Y'all won't stop, will ya?" he said, the good-natured tone still apparent. "Ya just won't stop. I'm mute today, guys, M-U-T-E. Look, there's (receiver) Gary Clark over there. Don't y'all want to talk to Gary?