He hated nothing more than college homecoming. Parties and punch and Polaroids. Everybody's father and mother and brothers and sisters barging in. Who ever came for him? His father had died two days after he got to school. Tidy way to wrap up a guy's adolescence, right? Two years later, his brother was shot to death. Eight months after that, at the end of his junior year, he would be divorced with one child.
His mother and sister never came to the games. His uncle called the streets and shelters of Houston home. He had next to no friends from high school and next to no friends on the football team. Didn't seem like anybody liked him, and he didn't like anybody. A five-inch scar on his face was an indelible reminder of the motto he lived his life by: Don't trust anybody. Anybody could be hiding something—like a razor blade.
He skirted around all those homecoming hugs, the way you do when you get off a plane and everybody except you is falling into someone's arms and you have to pretend it doesn't matter. So he pretended it didn't matter. He would slip away, sprint up to his dorm room and cry. He would cry hard because he knew it did matter. "I was a big man, you know?" he says. "But I was a kid, too. I felt alone."
He starts to cry now as he remembers that homecoming 10 years ago. He's in a Reston, Va., restaurant, with a BMW outside, some onion rings in front of him and 29 years of distrust, insecurity and misunderstanding inside him. Some guy comes over and asks him for his autograph. He turns his streaked face away.
"You Dexter Manley?" the guy says. "Boy, do I envy you."
Dexter Manley has the mike and Howard Cosell is on the spot: "Howard, I have to ask you. Have you ever committed adultery?"
Dexter Manley has the podium with Alexander Haig at the head table: "I have one thing to say, Mr. Haig. I'm in charge here."
Dexter Manley has the press corps in front of him and time to kill: "I'd like to ring his [Joe Montana's] clock.... I'm going to hit him [Russ Francis] in the mouth with a baseball bat.... "Obviously, we're going to have to knock Walter Payton out of the game."
Dexter Manley has blood in his eye, and he's screaming from the field at San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh: "Run the ball at me! Run it at me!"
Dexter Manley has a tableful of Super Bowl XVII reporters in front of him, and he's doing his best Joe Namath: "I guarantee [we will win]."