SAN DIEGO — A guy with a tape recorder around his neck was crouched low. Above him were at least a dozen long-stemmed microphones. Behind them, TV cameras, humming in unison. And tucked in between, maybe 100 sports writers, craning their necks. The focus of their attention was a chair. Dexter Manley’s chair. It was empty.

“They’re interviewing a chair?” someone asked.

No, came the answer. Dexter had been here, but now the Washington Redskins defensive end was gone. But maybe he was coming back. Hard to say. He had entered this designated one- hour interview session Thursday — there are three during Super Bowl week, this was the last — but apparently the scene was just too much for old Dex; after a few seconds, Manley pulled out a prepared statement, and read it aloud:

“So many questions are asked of me that are so repetitious that in order to save your time and mine I will take your questions in writing, consider them overnight, and get back to you tomorrow.”

Then Dexter left the stage. SEAT OF WISDOM?

Now perhaps you figure anyone with a lick of sense would have left as well. But the reporters remained in place. Maybe they were desperate for a story. Maybe they figured if they stayed long enough, the chair would start talking.

Not that a talking chair would outdo Manley. After all, wasn’t he the classic loud-mouthed football player, a guy whom Bears coach Mike Ditka recently said had the “IQ of a grapefruit,” a guy who stood amid the media mob on Tuesday with his own camera, yakking about the “one good hit” he hoped to level on John Elway (“it may not slow him down; but it may put him out”)?

Wasn’t Manley the guy with the diamond-studded No. 72 around his neck, the man who once wore a mohawk and called himself “Mr. D,” who bears a scar on his

cheek from a razor blade fight back in college, who has been sued by his agents, hunted by credit- card companies, done time in alcohol rehabilitation, and once met Alexander Haig and quipped “Mr. Haig, I’m in charge here.”

This was the guy who wasn’t talking?

And — oh, look. Here he was again. Marching back through the media tent entrance, this time flanked by two uniformed guards. The cameras whirred. He plopped back down, his sweatsuit zipped to his neck. He removed his sunglasses, and flashed his trademark smile, which, when in full sail, appears to cover his entire face.

Then he read his statement again. When he reached the point about submitting questions, he screamed: “IN WRITING!”

And Dexter left the stage.

Now personally, I had no problem with his request. Heck, I went looking for a pad. I figured to ask something thoughtful like, “Dear Dexter: If two men are traveling on trains in different directions, and passenger A is going 50 miles per hour . . . “

And if he wrote something back I would take it outside and sell it to one of the thousands of rabid-tongued Redskins fans here, who would kiss dirty socks if Manley had worn them. And then I would take the money and buy myself a nice dinner.

Alas, this plan was foiled when I realized media access ended Thursday. Dexter said he would get back to us tomorrow. There would be no tomorrow.

Maybe that’s why he said it.

SACKING IS HIS BAG

“Can you believe that guy?” a colleague asked, staring off at the tent exit through which Dexter had disappeared. “He was so good a few days ago.”

I shrugged. I guess I can believe anything. Particularly from Manley. Any guy who lies about his age on his driver’s license then defends it by saying
“Nancy Reagan does it” isn’t really going to throw me. No matter what he does. Mostly what Manley does is sack quarterbacks anyhow. He’s done it more than any NFL player since they started keeping track, and he will try to do it Sunday. According to his plan, which he announced Tuesday, (while he was still talking) he wants to spear Elway from behind “right between the numbers.”

Which won’t be easy, since Elway wears No. 7.

I would have brought this to Dexter’s attention, except, as I mentioned, Dexter had left the stage. And although many reporters stared at it hungrily, I still didn’t think that chair was going to talk.

So, I left too. I walked back toward the bus. And as I looked up, here was Dexter and his two security guards, heading back to the tent. “Must be the late show,” I thought to myself, and kept walking.

I was later told that Manley did indeed return a third time. (Washington coach Joe Gibbs told him to.) The same reporters whom he had insulted twice in one morning now sat there lapping up his words like alley cats at a bowl of milk. “I don’t do anything just for attention,” he told them.

On my way to the bus I passed no fewer than 30 grown men dressed in Redskin colors. I passed a man dressed as a whale, and a woman as a dolphin. High above the sold-out hotel, there were two blimps — not one, but two — battling for space in the sky.

Super Bowl week. All is well.

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