WASHINGTON — It was the day after Christmas, and Dexter Manley was in trouble. Again. This time, the Washington Redskins' loose-lipped, All-Pro defensive end was AWOL from a team meeting and practice, only two days before a wild card playoff game against the Rams. While his teammates labored at Redskin Park, Manley snoozed in his nearby townhouse, feeling the effects of a late-night binge with gin and tonic.
Manley awoke at midday, frightened. Although he had a reputation for being a hell-raising, anything-goes kind of guy, he had never slept through a practice or team meeting.
"When I awakened, I had fear," Manley would say later. "I was real ashamed. I felt humiliated. I mean, I thought, 'Something is wrong.' "
Something was wrong. Manley was an alcoholic. He knew it. He felt it. But he was not ready to admit it. At Redskin Park that weekend last season, he dodged reporters' questions and received a $1,000 fine--but no suspension--from Coach Joe Gibbs. Later, he explained his absence by saying he had just had a few drinks before practice.
"I don't have a drinking problem," Manley insisted. "I might drink beer, but not a lot of hard liquor."
In fact, Manley drank a lot of hard liquor. Not every day or even every week. But when he drank, he drank excessively, and he could not be controlled.
"One drink led to another drink--and another one," he would explain. "I was powerless to stop. I became unmanageable."
Such was the case on the evening of March 10 when Manley left his townhouse in Reston, Va. for another round of gin and tonics. "I had 10 drinks--you know, like those drinks they serve on a plane (in miniature bottles)," he recalled. "When I got home I started throwing up. And my wife felt like, 'This guy's got a problem.' "
That afternoon, Glinda Manley phoned for an ambulance to take her husband to Georgetown University Hospital. "I just didn't feel good," Manley said. "I didn't feel good about myself. I said to myself, 'I'm tired of this. I'm tired of doing things such as going out and coming home two or three hours late. People don't do that.' "
Two days later, Manley checked himself into the Hazelden Foundation, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Center City, Minn. During a 30-day stay, he said he was treated for alcohol--not drug--abuse. "If I have another drink I may die," Manley said in his first extended interview since leaving Hazelden. "Because it doesn't get any better. It only gets worse."
Asked if he has ever used cocaine, Manley coughed, as if to clear his throat. "No. What difference? Everybody has experience with something," he said. "I'm not saying that I have. Does that matter?"
Manley never has been an easy guy to figure. He has donated time to March of Dimes, Easter Seals and Veterans Hospital--and he has threatened to impose physical harm on opposing players. He has served as a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, Va.--and he has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, reckless driving and impersonating a police officer. And now it has been discovered that for six years Manley has been misleading the Redskins about his true age. Surprising? Not to anyone who has followed Manley's career.
"Well," goes the saying about the Redskins' 258-pound quarterback-cruncher, "Dexter is just being Dexter again."
The youngest of four children, Dexter Keith Manley was raised in a rented wood-frame house in Houston's Third Ward, one of the poorest and toughest neighborhoods in the Lone Star State. His father was a chauffeur for the Tenneco Oil Co., his mother a nurse's aide.
Manley was a year older than most of his classmates, the result of having repeated the third grade. "I'd had a fight outside class," he explained. "For that reason, they put me back."
He attended Yates High, a perennial football powerhouse in Houston, and earned a starting position as a sophomore. "I was one of only three sophomores on the varsity team," he said. "That told me something about myself."
After a spirited recruitment by major college coaches, Manley signed with Oklahoma State. But there was no time for celebration. As his senior year wound down, his father was suffering from terminal colon cancer and his girlfriend, Stephayne Baker, an 11th grader at Yates, was ready to give birth to their child. "It freaked us both out," Stephayne recalled. "But Dexter had a level head. We got married."
In Stillwater, Okla., Manley was determined to make a fresh start. And he accomplished that in short order.
First, he told Oklahoma State officials that he was 18, having been born on Feb. 2, 1959. According to his birth certificate, he was born on Feb. 2, 1958. Oklahoma State accepted the false birthdate, however, and it stuck.
Next, he purchased a new Mercury Cougar, making a $2,000 down payment. "He earned the money by working a summer job," Stephayne Manley said recently. "He told me his uncle gave him the money," recalled Harold Bailey, a former Yates and OSU quarterback. Asked about the Cougar, Manley shook his head. "No comment."