The Washington Redskins remembered the good times and emphasized the positives yesterday as they said their formal goodbyes to Dexter Manley, their all-time sacks leader and one of their most popular and controversial players ever.
Coach Joe Gibbs said he'd hoped for a face-to-face meeting with Manley, "but there was just too much going on." Instead, Gibbs telephoned Manley to tell him of the decision, thank him for his contributions and wish him well.
The Redskins learned early yesterday afternoon that Manley had been cleared to play again by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and as expected, they immediately announced Manley would be waived.
"One thing I'd like to say about Dexter is that I appreciate all those plays he made and having his smiling face and cranked-up attitude on the field," Gibbs said. "He led our team and gave us a spark. He helped carry us over the years and made tons of great plays. We're going to miss him. I tried to tell him that. You can't always get out everything you'd like to say, but I tried. We wish him the absolute best."
The Redskins said they wrestled with the decision for several weeks and that it came down to several factors, including the fact that three veteran defensive linemen -- Eric Williams, Tim Johnson and Jumpy Geathers -- had been added since Manley was suspended last season.
"We've got seven other guys who fought their guts out to make our football team and they've been working with us all year," Gibbs said. "I just don't think it'd be fair to do anything else. I wasn't willing to take one of those guys and set them down. They have families too."
Gibbs said several times he wanted to emphasize the positives. He said there were other factors, "but I'm not going to elaborate on those."
General Manager Charley Casserly said almost the same thing, choosing his words carefully and talking about how happy he was that Manley was again able to play.
"First of all, I want to wish Dexter well," Casserly said. "We're happy he's been reinstated, and the biggest thing is he's fought through this problem. That's the thing we're really happy about."
Several of his former teammates said they would phone him to offer congratulations on his return. However, they refused to say whether or not they felt he should have been brought back to the Redskins.
"I'm glad for him," linebacker Monte Coleman said, "and everything else is up to the coaching staff. I respected their opinion. I'm just happy he can play again. If this is what's best for Dexter, this is what I want."
Quarterback Mark Rypien had the same reaction, adding, "The main thing is he's back in football. That's such a big part of his life. Unfortunately it won't be here, but he is getting a second chance. That's more important. I hope he comes back and has a nice long career."
Redskins management used so many superlatives and showered so much praise on Manley that it was hard to remember they were talking about a player they'd given up on. Even if the Redskins considered Manley a great player, they privately insist their decision would be no different.
The Redskins probably arrived at this decision shortly after Manley received the "lifetime" ban last Nov. 18 and it was unlikely they would forgive him for getting into trouble at a point in their season when they most needed him.
Likewise, they believed that bringing him back again would send the wrong message to their players, that it would tell them they could make as many mistakes as they wanted and still be welcomed back.
In addition, the Redskins appear to believe that Manley has declined as a player and that he was, at times, uncoachable.
The Redskins have taken him back before, in 1986, 1987 and 1988, after he'd had problems with drugs. Yesterday, they admitted they perhaps should have been tougher, but it's easy to second-guess decisions two and three years after the fact.
"You can always look back and second-guess anything you do as a coach," Gibbs said. "A lot of things happened and maybe we didn't handle them all the best way. I know I did what we thought was best at the time. It was tough with Dexter because I felt like he did have a good heart and had overcome a lot of things in his life. You always have a tendency to think back to those. At times, I thought we were over the hump. I thought we had things whipped. Dexter would tell you the same thing.
"I hope his problems are behind him and hopefully it'll be a great road from here on out. I'm going to wish him the absolute best unless it's against us. I know he'll play hard if that happens. He has meant a lot to the Redskins and I said thanks for all of that."