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Now, Manley Moves People With Words

Said Derek, 27, Manley's son from his first marriage: "People in Houston heard Dexter Manley and thought, 'He's always going to be a crack head.' They rooted against him."

No wonder, then, that Manley and Lydia jumped when Second Genesis offered him a job. They moved from Houston six months after Manley's prison release, choosing to start over in a city where being Dexter Manley would again connote achievement.

"Anywhere he goes, he gets showered in love and attention. It makes him so happy," Lydia Manley says of her husband Dexter, a former Redskin standout. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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Manley's job at Second Genesis is, in large part, to be famous -- and he loves that responsibility. He spends some days doing what he calls "gripping and grinning," shaking hands and mingling with star-struck potential donors, then encouraging them to give money. "Dexter's magnetic," Second Genesis Executive Director Cathy Martens said. "He's great at making that handoff."

Manley also gives several speeches per month on behalf of Second Genesis at local high schools. After a speech, he usually hangs out in the hallway to answer questions. Sometimes he signs autographs; sometimes he speaks so candidly about his addiction that the 6-foot-4, 265-pound man winds up sobbing on the shoulder of a 10th-grader.

He's respected, though, and he'll do everything possible to engender that. One afternoon while Manley ate with a friend at Crisfield Seafood Restaurant in Silver Spring, a woman approached him, interrupting his lunch. She introduced herself as a fifth-grade teacher and asked Manley if he would come talk to her class about his struggles.

"It would be my pleasure," Manley said. Then he walked out to his car to get her a business card, leaving his hot clam chowder sitting on the table.

Stories like these have almost become inside jokes among Manley's friends. Don't go out to eat with Manley, friends said, unless you want to be joined by a stranger who, after asking Manley for an autograph, is invited to sit down.

"He's so kind and open that sometimes it can get awkward," said Mike Wilson, a local businessman and Manley's close friend. "One time we were eating at The Palm, and a couple of businessmen came up and asked Dexter, 'Hey man, where you been?' We didn't even know these guys, but Dexter answers with this long story about his drug use and his fall from grace and he ends up crying. He's too genuine."

But it's that sincerity, sometimes problematic, that has allowed Manley to hold onto his friends and family despite the hell he put them through.

Since Manley first admitted using drugs in 1989, he has teased those closest to him with stints of sobriety, with promises of fresh starts. In 1991, he said he would re-establish his football career; the NFL kicked him out less than a year later. In 1994, he said he was "born again"; then he got caught with crack. In 2001, he became a legal assistant and promised sobriety; he left for his second trip to prison shortly thereafter.

"This is," friend and manager Charlie Brotman said, "Dexter's 10th second chance."

He has a forgiving collection of friends and family to thank for it. Martens offered Manley a job without fear that he would relapse again because, she said, it's her job to believe in second chances.

Lydia said she feels more confident in Manley's sobriety than ever before, largely because he has developed a close, eclectic group of friends -- a dentist, a freelance photographer, a businessman -- with whom he meets almost every day. Manley refers to that group as his "safety net."

Dalis, Derek and 20-year old Dexter II -- who've all threatened, at one point or another, to forget Manley as their father -- said they've never felt closer to their dad. Manley talks to Dalis, who lives with her mother in Atlanta, for an hour every day. He wants Derek, now in Houston, to move to Washington and live nearby. He tutors Dexter II, a blossoming football player at Santa Monica College, on the fine points of playing defensive end. When Dexter II jumps to a Division I school in a year, Manley promised to be at every game.

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