"Dexter's not a bad person," Washington general manager Bobby Beathard has said. "Not even close."
"Dexter's a different type of dude," says teammate R.C. Thielemann. "I don't know if he's on anybody's Christmas card list."
"Dexter's a big teddy bear," says his wife, Glinda. "If you don't have a preconceived notion of Dexter, you can see Dexter."
Manley is an unignorable football presence. To opposing quarterbacks, the 6'3", 257-pound Manley is capital punishment. As a rookie in 1981, he ran the fastest 40-yard dash—4.55—of anyone in the Redskins' minicamp. "Amazing," said coach Joe Gibbs. Since then, Manley has broken Diron Talbert's club record for most career sacks, helped lead Washington to two Super Bowls, improved his sack total every season and, after missing most of the first five games of this year because of a knee injury and the strike, already leveled quarterbacks three times for losses. He is a major reason that Washington, with a 7-2 record, is a lock to make the playoffs.
"The Redskins need me and I need them," says Manley. "If they didn't need me, I'd have been gone a long time ago. I'm too much trouble."
Manley, the youngest child of a chauffeur and a nurse's aide, was born in Houston's Third Ward on Feb. 2,1959. Or was it 1958? His driver's license says 1959; his birth certificate says 1958. Manley repeated the third grade, and he lied about his age when he went to Oklahoma State. "Who cares?" he says. "Nancy Reagan does it."
He loved his father, Carl, but his father never said that he loved him back. Carl favored another son, Reginald Carl. The similarity in looks between Manley and his father was striking, but Reginald Carl "had the name," says Manley. A standout basketball player in high school, Reggie, according to Manley, "got all the awards. I never did."
They say the unfavored child either becomes fixated on winning his father's approval or rebels against him. Manley spent his youth trying to win approval. He might have succeeded, too, if he hadn't gotten his girlfriend, Stephayne Baker, pregnant during his senior year in high school. Marry her, said her mother. Don't you dare, said his father. On March 15, 1977, three weeks before the baby was born, Manley came up with a solution. He would marry Stephayne to please her mother, but he would not tell his father.
For 2½ months the marriage was a heavy secret. To be with Stephayne, Manley would occasionally spend the night at the Bakers' house. In early June, when Carl found out what his son had done, he was furious. Dexter never had an opportunity to explain. "I wanted my kid to have a name," he says. "I thought that it was the right thing to do."