Life sits like a singing canary on Dexter Manley's shoulders and whatever he thinks, he mostly says. Right now he's thinking he loves the Super Bowl. He sees himself as a Joe Namath of defensive ends. To be that famous, Manley figures he has to be the most valuable player in this Super Bowl. He has a formula worked out for that. Listen as Manley meets the press . . .

"Some players will eat it up--such as myself," Manley said when one of 200 reporters at today's press day asked if such interviews bothered the players. "I want to be with Joe Namath one day."

It's your goal to be as famous as Namath?

"That's one of them."

What's another?

"MVP this week."

These lines came from Manley in the same smiling, aw-shucks, li'l-innocent-boy way he used to declare war on Dallas two weeks ago. That's when he said, "Tell Dallas that Dexter Manley is the Redskins' weakness and to run right at Dexter Manley because Dexter Manley will be waiting." Every right-thinking person remembers that Manley knocked out quarterback Danny White and later tipped a pass to turn the game Washington's way for good.

Anyway, later today, someone (probably from Dallas) suggested this would be "a blah Super Bowl because there are no names in it."

Manley said, smiling, "I will be a name after the Super Bowl."

All-pro next year?

"I'll be there. To do it, we have to win the Super Bowl, and I have to win the MVP."

What will it take to be MVP?

"About three sacks and eight or nine tackles."

Can he do that?

"Ask me tomorrow, after I look at the films today."

Dexter Manley is--this is the precise word--sweet. The guy is 6-foot-3, weighs 253 pounds and can bench-press Montana. As defensive ends go, he is astonishingly fast (he ran under punts last season). But unlike some others of his defensive-end species, Manley carries no air of rage about him.

You listen to this Namath/MVP stuff, and in cold type it comes off as self-congratulatory baloney, not much better than Hollywood Henderson's act of a few years ago when he came jiving to the Super Bowl with the Cowboys and said, among many things, "Bradshaw couldn't spell 'cat' if you spotted him c-a."

The difference is that Manley says these things kindly. It's not as if no other Redskin wants to be the MVP come Sunday. It's not as if only Dexter Manley wants to be famous. Hollywood Henderson and Fred Williamson (to name another Super Bowl popoff) wanted that, too, but their belligerence irritated everyone (including the Packers, who rendered Williamson unconscious early).

Manley is saying what every player thinks. Most say nothing, deferring to modesty and good sense. Then, too, most players know they don't have the tools to sing loudly before a game and face the music during it. However sweetly Dexter Manley puts the boasting, it would be too, too much except he then performs on the field.

"There'll be 80 million people watching the Super Bowl," he said, "and that's the ultimate: 80 million people watching me play."

As a kid in Texas, Manley came to dislike the Cowboys when they lost so often to the Steelers. That dislike grew deeper last season, his rookie year, with the Redskins.

"I respect the players," Manley said to a crowd of reporters. "It's just that you-all put Dallas on a pedestal. America's Team, this and that. It gets under my skin. We were winning, but people were looking at us like we were nothing . . . They're not America's Team, we're America's team. We're here, we're the nation's capital."

So Manley made sure his message got to Texas. Manley is the Redskins' weakness. Run at Manley.

Dallas did.

It went nowhere.

Next thing you knew, Manley sprinted past all-pro guard Pat Donovan to deck quarterback Danny White. White was knocked unconscious by the tackle, a tackle that made Manley famous in Dallas if not yet with the 80 million he's courting.

"I don't regret anything I said," Manley said. "They felt the pressure. I think basically they felt like they were going to lose, so they didn't say anything. Maybe Tom Landry told them to shut up."

Leaving White unconscious was no victory for Manley. "I felt bad, I had sympathy for Danny White, because he's a first-class guy. I really felt bad."

Manley looked at the reporters around him. "I'm not trying to make myself look good, but I sent Danny a telegram on Monday."

What did the telegram say?

"Oh, I don't want to say."

Come on.

Manley laughed. "Something like, 'Good luck, glad we beat you.' "

Someone pointed out that the Redskins, as they were against Dallas, are the betting underdogs in the Super Bowl.

"The bookies are a bunch of crooks, they don't know anything," he said, which prompted a question about Manley's run-in with the police back home in Virginia.

"My license tags on my Mercedes had expired and I took a ball-point pen and changed the date. So this officer stopped me and asked to see my license. I had my Fairfax County deputy sheriff's badge in my billfold. I'd worked there in the offseason, but I wasn't a deputy any more. He saw the badge. He made it up that I told him I was a deputy sheriff. We'd kind of had it out between the two of us, verbally, and he wanted to get back at me.

"All I got was a $100 fine."

And what should we call you now? Sheriff Manley?

"Deputy Manley is fine."