Along the Washington Redskins' defensive line the other day at practice, Charles Mann asked Dexter Manley if he had really said what he had heard Manley had said -- that the Washington-Dallas game was bigger than the summit.
"You actually told the media that the game was bigger than the summit?" Mann called out incredulously toward the other end of the line.
Manley nodded his helmet and smiled through its yellow bars.
Mann shook his helmet in return.
"I can't believe you said that," he said, laughing at the audacity of his teammate.
Such is the nature of the relationship between the Redskins' two starting defensive ends, a couple of the best and most different linemen in the business. Mann is as subtle as Manley is shocking, as calm as Manley is volatile, as measured as Manley is moody.
"In the past, it bothered me that he got so much attention," Mann said yesterday. "I'd say, 'Well, dang, he can pretty much do what he wants and get away with it. And here I am, a disciplined player trying to do what the coaches say, and what does it get me? Not a whole lot.' "
Now, Mann says, he finds ways to "pacify" himself. "I'm not going to change my style of play or cheerlead or clap my hands or run out and shake people's hands on national television. That's all being done, but it's not for me. When I leave the game, I hope I'm remembered for my consistent, steady play. More and more, guys come up to me from other teams after games and congratulate me for how I played. I'm more concerned about what they think than with what fans think. The opinions of your peers are always very important to you."
Mann realizes most fans notice defensive ends only when they are draped around a quarterback, about to make a sack. That's how Manley has made a name and gained fame in this town. He was leading the league with 17 1/2 sacks with three weeks left last season, but managed only a half-sack over the final three regular-season games and three playoff games. This season, Manley is seventh in the NFC with 7 1/2 sacks, light years behind Philadelphia's Reggie White, who has 16.
Mann has six sacks, far below what he had hoped for before the season and before the strike. He jumped into the team lead early when Manley was recovering from a knee injury, but hasn't had a sack in four games. Manley, meanwhile, promised a reporter he would talk if he recorded three sacks against the New York Giants. Spurred on by the very thought of talking (something he hasn't done much of in this silent season), Manley sacked Phil Simms exactly three times and spoke until no one was left to listen.
But there is more to being a defensive end than sacking quarterbacks. A defensive end is supposed to be consistent. He should stay in his pass-rushing lane in order to contain the quarterback should he try to scramble around the end. And he must not get caught too far upfield and be out of position to defend against the run, particularly the draw.
Mann knows the job description by heart. While Manley has been known to be inconsistent and overaggressive, trying too hard for a sack at the expense of his other responsiblities, Mann has been a model player.
"He's been absolutely consistent," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He is one of our most consistent linemen, if not the most consistent. He is very, very sharp, a very smart guy. He adds a lot to the team from that standpoint."
At the moment, Mann leads all defensive linemen with 65 total tackles, 11 more than tackle Darryl Grant, 28 more than tackle Dave Butz and 29 more than Manley. He also says he is thinking about and taking more educated risks at the line, like when he tore inside Giants tackle William Roberts to stuff running back Joe Morris for a six-yard loss on the first play of that game. Roberts expected Mann to go head-up with him. Mann surprised him by heading inside Roberts' left shoulder.
"You can't do that every play of the game," Mann said. "You have to choose. Great ballplayers have that great sense of timing. I hope to find that. But, if you decide to do that, you better make the play, or the coaches will be on you."
Manley says Mann "probably plays the run better" than he does. But when asked who is the better player, Manley leaves no doubt.
"Me," he said.
"I think Dexter has all the physical tools to be the best defensive end in the league, by far," Mann said. "His quickness, his 4.5 speed in the 40, his build. He is the prototype defensive end. He looks like a defensive end is supposed to look.
"I don't have the physical tools. I'm not the strongest, nor am I the fastest. I'm not the prototype. But you would not be able to know that if you watched us play, because there's one thing I may have more of than him, and that's heart."
Earlier this season, Mann twice stepped out of character, saying things he now wishes he had never said, or at least said differently. In training camp, Mann said he didn't know what "motivates" Butz, the man he stands shoulder to shoulder with every time they take the field. "He gets the job done, but not with a lot of emotion," Mann said.
Four months later, after an apology, Mann says he still is "trying to get in good graces with Dave. Something like that is not easily forgiven."
During the strike, Mann told a Touchdown Club luncheon the NFL Players Association should have hired a "high-priced lawyer" to negotiate with the owners. He wasn't the first player to think it, but he was the first to say it.
"I've learned a lot," Mann says now. "I've made some mistakes. I've grown because of it."