Dexter Manley, sidelined for an agonizing year after testing positive for cocaine use, hopes to cross one of the final hurdles blocking his return to pro football on Friday when he and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sit down face to face.
Manley will tell Tagliabue that he hasn't used alcohol or drugs for 388 days, and that he would like the chance to get back to the occupation he loves.
He'll tell Tagliabue that he realizes this is his last chance, but that he's more likely to succeed this time since he understands his disease more than he ever did before.
"I'm so hungry for football," he said. "I took it for granted for so long, and if I get a fresh start, I won't ever do that again. I've had enough chances. Everyone deserves a second chance, and I've had more than that. If I mess up now, it'll be a disaster. Today, I haven't messed up so far. As long as things are going and I keep building and educating myself, I'm going to make it. I've paid a heavy price for a mistake."
Tagliabue will make an announcement regarding Manley's status on Monday -- the day after the one-year anniversary of the lifetime expulsion -- and all indications are that the ban will be lifted, allowing Manley, 31, to play again. The defensive end was ousted by Tagliabue when he tested positive for a controlled substance for a third time.
Manley said yesterday he hopes the Washington Redskins want him back, and he'd like the chance to sit down with Coach Joe Gibbs "or whoever is making the decisions" and tell him how much he's changed.
Redskins sources have said for several months that the team has no interest in Manley, and that they believe it's better for both sides if he continues his career someplace else.
They say that, barring a drastic change of heart, Manley will be released by the team shortly after Tagliabue acts.
Manley said he'd like to play for the Redskins, but in an interview yesterday sounded like a man who realizes his future is elsewhere.
"I've accepted that part of it, that it may not be the Redskins," Manley said. "The thing that bothers me is I've heard what sources said and I've heard innuendo.
"I hope the Redskins will tell me themselves. I'd like to sit down and talk to them. I'm not against that."
Manley said this summer his first choices, other than the Redskins, would be the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Raiders or Denver Broncos. He said the idea of playing for the Dallas Cowboys and his coach at Oklahoma State, Jimmy Johnson, appealed to him.
"I love Washington and I'll always live here," he said. "But I'm not in control of whether or not I play here.
"The important thing is that I feel great about myself. I feel that I can come back and make a major contribution whether it's with the Redskins or a team like Miami, Denver or the Raiders. I think a team going into the stretch run could use a player of my caliber.
"I think these people will see me and appreciate what they see."
Redskins officials declined to speak publicly about Manley, but privately say they have many reasons for parting with their all-time sack leader and one of the most popular and most recognizable players the franchise has had.
First, they said they'll never forgive Manley for letting them down last season at a time when they had a dozen players hurt and were clinging to their playoff hopes by a fingernail.
They said Manley got two other chances after running into trouble with drugs or alcohol, and that it would send the wrong message to their current players that no matter what they do they'll have jobs waiting for them.
Bringing Manley back would mean cutting a player or shifting one to injured reserve, and the Redskins say they're unwilling to do this.
However, Manley's attorney, Bob Woolf, said he hopes the Redskins will reconsider and at least allow Manley to practice for a couple of weeks to find out if he's different and if he can help them. The Redskins say privately they won't consider such an arrangement and it's better to sever ties altogether.
In addition, the Redskins say that they like the locker room chemistry of this year's team and that they won't do anything to disturb it. Gibbs considered Manley a distraction.
In fact, club sources say their only regret in the matter is that they didn't release him earlier. They didn't because a barrage of injuries in the defensive line could have changed their thinking.
Could he help the Redskins?
That's a stickier question, especially since pass-rushing defensive linemen are one of the NFL's most prized commodities. Manley had nine sacks in 10 games last season, including three in his final game, against Philadelphia.
Their decision means he'll be a free agent, and pro football sources predict he'll have no trouble finding work. Manley said he's in shape, that he was recently clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and that he may not need long to get into football condition.
He said too that he's in shape emotionally. He spent much of the past four months in Houston, speaking to youngsters about the perils of drugs for the John Lucas Center, where he underwent treatment last winter.
He spoke about his well documented past problems with illiteracy at the University of Conneticut on Monday and Yale on Tuesday.
"Imagine that," he said laughing, "someone from Houston's Third Ward at Yale. I heard the commissioner's daughter was in school there. So maybe I got some Brownie points."
Sounding anxious and happy that his year in exile may be nearing an end, Manley said: "It has been the most difficult year of my life. I felt all along that things are going to be all right because I believe in myself and my family. . . .
"It has been a long process. There were some difficult times. I had to take it one day at a time. If I told you I knew I was going to make it through, I'd be lying. Sometimes you want to project an image that 'I'm okay.'
"I'm excited. I'm very optimistic I'm getting ready to do something I enjoy doing. I love to play the game."