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January 31, 2002
Standing up for Manley
ESPN The Magazine

The NFLís Hall of Fame balloting is Saturday. Excuse me if I yawn.

Itís hard to take it seriously sometimes, when the election is so pious and political. Bill Parcells has won two Super Bowls and is one of the three best coaches of my generation, yet apparently his little flirtation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned some voters off. They may make him wait another year.

So what if he got the itch to coach? Itís who he is. But itís always something with these high and mighty Hall of Fame voters, and it happens in every sport. Iím one of the people who believes Pete Rose should have been in the Hall of Fame yesterday, that on-the-field performance counts for everything -- as long as Pete did not bet on himself to lose. And no one claims he did.

That said, Iíd like to introduce you to the NFLís Pete Rose -- Dexter Manley.

The former Redskins defensive end should at least be on the list of finalists, especially when you see L.C. Greenwoodís name there. Of course, I preface all of this by saying Iím biased. I co-wrote Manleyís autobiography, and that means we have a bond forever. But I also know that right before Saturday's election, certain writers will stand up on behalf of Greenwood, and all the other nominees. So I'm standing up for Manley, right here, right now.

I know the guy in and out, know him better than anyone, and if nothing else, that makes me an authority on this.

If the Hall of Fame Board of Selectors left Dexter Manley off the ballot because he used cocaine, then shame on those people. And if Dexter Manley is not on the ballot because they believe he wasnít good enough, then shame on them for that, too.

To be honest, the whole thing reeks. Howie Long, who is already in the Hall of Fame, entered the league the same year Manley did, played the same position Manley did, and is hardly the superior player. Long had a career total of 91.5 sacks -- including the 7.5 he had his rookie year of 1981 when sacks were not an official statistic.

But Manley shatters that, with 103.5 career sacks -- the six he had his rookie year, the 91 he had with Washington between 1982-89 and 6.5 more with Tampa Bay in 1991. Plus, he won two Super Bowl rings. Both he and Long were double-teamed every game, both he and Long were durable, but Manley was an almost irresistable force. The offense had to account for him. Or else.

How about Lee Roy Selmon? Heís already in the Hall of Fame with 78.5 sacks. Or how about this yearís defensive end candidate, L.C. Greenwood? He played on the same side of the defensive line as Mean Joe Greene, which meant he saw a lot of one-on-one matchups. And his sack total was only 73.5.

The cynics will say that Manley was just a Mark Gastineau, that Long and Selmon and Greenwood played the run better than him. But Iíll say they were only marginally better against the run. And thatís because Manley wasnít asked to play the run all the time; it wasnít his role.

The Redskins wanted sacks, which is why they gave him one of the more unique incentive clause deals of that era. At the end of his Redskins career, he was getting $4,500 per quarterback sack and $3,000 per quarterback hurry -- so, of course, he was going to tee off on the pass rush. But on third and short, he was still stout against the run; ask anyone who tried to stampede him.

So facts are facts, which means something else is going on here with the Hall of Fame. "I guess because of my dark past, the NFL has shied away," Manley says.

I donít get it. He had a cocaine problem, which cost him the entire 1990 season and eventually his career. He had a cocaine problem that landed him in rehab 17 times, in jail for 14 months and cost him his senses. A cocaine problem that led him one night to pawn his television set for drug money. Itís sad and despicable, but there are those who say drug addiction is a disease, and if so, Dexter Manley has gone out and -- for the moment -- found the cure: AA meetings and a good marriage.

Heís still not perfect, and he never will be the fair-haired NFL poster boy that a Howie Long is. No, he didnít make the Pro Bowl every year -- only one appearance, in fact -- but the reason, from what Iím told, is that the other coaches and players, who did the voting, werenít fond of him. "I was a loud mouth and I talked trash," he says. "They thought I was a dumb black jock."

He didnít talk more than Warren Sapp does now. And he wasnít dumb. He had a learning disability that went undiagnosed until he was 28. He went back and learned to read and write, which the NFL powers-that-be should be proud of. Donít tell me this Hall of Fame snub is about Dexter Manley, the person. Because that would be uninformed.

Of course, the Hall of Fame voters wonít say that. They say Manley was nominated once in 1997 (which is true) and that he just wasnít deemed talented enough. Theyíll say drugs or character arenít the issue, that Lawrence Taylor, of all people, got in. But LT had to get in. Had to get in. He was too dominant.

So, maybe thatís it. Maybe thatís the criteria. Maybe if a player has used drugs and has been to jail, he needs to be "LT dominant" to get on the ballot, much less into the Hall.

And if thatís the case ... thatís discrimination. If thatís the case, Dexter Manleyís better off in Alcoholics Anonymous than in that lousy Hall of Fame.

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at tom.friend@espnmag.com.



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