4. Dexter Manley
I suppose this is where the list begins to support the touted uniqueness of the original question. Dexter Manley is neither one of the greatest ‘Skins of all time, nor is he one of the franchise’s most famous players (infamous maybe). He is, however, one of the most fascinating figures in team history. Manley, a fifth-round pick in 1981 out of Oklahoma State, was a terrific defensive end with pass-rushing talents worthy of the Hall of Fame. In his ‘Skins career, a period from 1981 through 1989, Manley recorded a franchise record 91 sacks (the NFL didn’t even start recording sacks until his second season).
All those on-field sacks aside, it’s what Manley could and couldn’t sack off that field that defines his legacy. Habitual drug use and a series of positive tests took an incalculable toll on his performance, and effectively ended what could have been a Hall-of-Fame career in 1991. However, to dismiss Manley has nothing more than a stereotypical athlete that succumbed to drug addiction would be to miss half his story. Later in his career, Manley bravely revealed his illiteracy, the psychological toll it had taken on him and, to his enormous credit, the steps he took to overcome it.
A panoramic view of Manley’s career reveals a man of great contradiction. On the field he was strong, confident and athletic; in front of a camera he was brash, energetic, charismatic and humorous. Privately, we learned he was hollow, racked with anxiety and full of vulnerabilities. His arrogance and personal flaws could harden a pessimist’s heart and frequently disappointed even his staunchest supporters. He was his own worst enemy, but also the victim of a system concerned only with using Manley’s while they had them and not equipping him with talents for when he was long gone.
What would I ask Dexter Manley over a beverage? If he had any regrets. What he’s learned about life and people during his along the way. Is he cynical of others? Is he more proud or disappointed in himself? I’d like to know what he thinks about the system of major professional sports (primarily football and basketball): One that identifies stars at tender ages and deifies them before they hold a high school diploma or are even deemed mature enough to vote in a presidential election. And, of course, I’d ask him to recount his sack of Danny White in the 1982 NFC Championship Game just to lighten the mood.
Through it all, no matter his accomplishments, mistakes, penance or poor fortune, Manley has always been equipped with a smile that melted skepticism and engendered good will. That’s what I’ll always remember about Manley, and that’s what I’d hope to see when I asked him the most important question of all: How are you?