Dexter Manley, the Washington Redskins' defensive end, came in out of the rain yesterday and said he was dry. Standing there in the locker room wearing a monogrammed shirt, cowboy boots and a towel, Manley said: "Football is not No. 1. My No. 1 priority is being sober."

For the first time since he left for alcohol rehabilitation last spring, Manley spoke to the media after a game. Circled around him were 44 delirious Redskins, whooping it up at the thought of their 23-19 victory over the New York Giants.

What a day it had been: Strong safety Alvin Walton earning a spot on the All-(John) Madden team with a seven-tackle performance; Dennis Woodberry doing his best Ken Houston imitation by dragging down Tony Galbreath at the 2-yard line in the final second. And Manley, who finally blew by Giants tackle Brad Benson for three sacks, just like he always knew he could.

"I don't think Brad Benson ever did a good job on me," Manley was saying yesterday, though Benson held him sackless last season. "And I really mean that sincerely, and I know I shouldn't say that. But that's a fact. I do not think the guy can block me one on one. I know he can't."

Manley chose yesterday to talk because he'd promised a sportswriter he'd speak if he had three sacks. But that's not all of it, he said. He spoke yesterday because, he said, he finally has "peace and sincerity within myself. I was always chasing something, but I'm not chasing anymore. I don't have to feel like I'm running from Dexter. I can have some company with myself."

Manley said his insecurities drove him to drinking. He said his drinking, which he calmly called a disease, was fostered by his incredible selfishness. That's why the players strike was so difficult for him, he said. It nearly drove him across the picket line.

"{The strike} was hard because my thing has always been 'I,' " he said yesterday. "I've been a self-centered type guy. I have to realize this is not an 'I' program; this is a 'we' program. And I have to take a back seat.

"Of course, {the strike} was hard for me. But, see, that's the nature of a guy like me, that has a problem or a disease. It's always the 'I' syndrome."

So, he stood there yesterday and thanked his team.

"When I came back {from rehabilitation}, they were very supportive. Coach {Joe} Gibbs and {General Manager} Bobby Beathard hung in there with me. Because I've been like a roller coaster in the past -- in and out."

Of course, Dexter was Dexter on the field yesterday, his tongue and fingers wagging all day. When he sacked Phil Simms on the 2-yard line once, he hollered so hard, he lost his mouthpiece. As he then danced around in the end zone, Simms flipped the ball angrily at Manley and hit him smack in the rear end.

"Any time you get beat three times by a team {like the Giants did to the Redskins last year}, you'd be damn fool not to want to whup their butts," Manley shouted afterward.

But then he became subdued -- as much as that's possible -- and stopped thinking so much about himself, a sign that perhaps he has changed or, at least, is trying to.

"It's not so much the three sacks; it's our victory," he said.

Manley praised Walton, who in another part of the locker room said: "I'd rather make a hit than an interception." Which is exactly why Madden announced during CBS' broadcast that Walton's a shoo-in for his team.

Manley also praised Woodberry, an ex-replacement player who made the game-saving hit on Galbreath on the final play. "I don't think like a replacement player," Woodberry said. "I think like a football player."

Yet, Manley wouldn't be Manley if he didn't praise himself, too.

"I felt I got hurt in training camp, and when we came out {after the strike} against the Jets, I was self-consciously timid. But now I'm getting stronger and more confident in myself."

He said it was hard keeping his mouth shut through all this. He smiled as he spoke.

"I'm having a good time now, you know," he said. "I used to not have a good time. But now since I'm sober, I can see things. I don't feel foggy anymore. I don't see clouds. I can appreciate life.

"As long as I can maintain my sobriety, there's no question I'll be the best. If I don't maintain my sobriety, I'll have problems."

It's not difficult for him to use the word "alcohol." It comes off his lips easily now.

"Let me tell you, that was the toughest decision I ever made, keeping my sobriety," he said yesterday.

He's still in rehabilitation, just to make sure he sticks to Coca-Cola on the rocks. "It's easy, though," he said. "It's not work. I mean, it's just one day at a time. Anyone can fight the battle just one day. Today is today. I don't worry about what happened yesterday; I don't worry about the future. I just worry about the present."

The present? Well, his wife was waiting outside.

"Gotta go," he said.

So he threw on an overcoat and walked outside to meet her. It wasn't raining anymore.