By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
I should have listened to Larry Michael.
The Washington Redskins' longtime broadcaster warned anyone and everyone in attendance at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds during the team's 80th Anniversary Thank You Tour last Friday to beware of shaking Dexter Manley's hand. He even offered up an anecdote, describing the time Manley -- formerly a fearsome defensive end during the Redskins' dynasty years of the 1980s -- served as honorary team captain for a game against the hated Dallas Cowboys, for the express purpose of locking Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in that vise grip.
Romo knew better, Michael told the crowd.
I didn't, apparently.
So right before Redskins Vice President/General Manager Bruce Allen, current Redskins Ryan Kerrigan, Terrence Austin and Chris Wilson, a passel of Redskins cheerleaders and the big man himself boarded the bus headed back to Ashburn, I made my approach.
Put'er there, big fella.
I am happy to report my hand is healing nicely, all bones seemingly intact.
Having Manley along for the Redskins' road trip, along with fellow alums Sam Huff and Mark Moseley on Friday, struck just the right note for the trip. It was, after all, as much about past glory as future prospects for a team looking to regain those dizzying heights of Super Bowl championships. Manley helped Washington win two of those Super Bowls and is hopeful he'll soon see the current crop of Redskins have their moments in the sun.
"Everywhere we go on this tour, I hear the Redskins' fight song, 'Hail to the Redskins,'" Manley said. "It brings back so many memories. You don't appreciate it at the time. It was a good time and we had such a great time there. When you hear that song, at least when I hear it and come back here, I sort of feel a sense of joy and sadness because it's all over at the end of the day."
During introductions, Manley drew cheers every bit as loud as any of the current Redskins, from those who remember his days in the Burgundy and Gold, from those who've just heard about them. He is remembered and celebrated for what he did on the playing field, even by those who know the struggles he endured off it in his battles with drug addiction which ultimately might have cut his career short.
It's good to see Manley back in the Redskins fold, after all he did for the franchise during those glory years. And he soaked up the appreciation, reveled in the attention once more.
"It just brings back such good memories, how you had blood, sweat and tears for your teammates," Manley said. "The fans are really still thriving ... there's so many words, I can't describe about this 80th year and this tour here."
Off the stage, Manley stood next to Kerrigan, now playing his old position as a defensive end. They chatted there, one of many conversations Manley has had with current players about upholding and advancing the tradition he helped to build during his nine-year stay in Washington.
"I think that's really important," Manley said. "Right now we have such great tradition. You have to have great players to win, and I think Bruce Allen is starting in the right direction, and [coach] Mike Shanahan. Let's hope that they can have more than 10 wins this year. I'm always optimistic that they will turn it around.
"They've got to get a front seven to put pressure on the quarterback -- that's how you win football games. Offense puts people in the stands, but winning games is you've got to be able to stop the opposing people like Tony Romo and [New York Giants quarterback] Eli Manning and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles. That's how you win football games."
Manley and Moseley and Huff, they know all about winning football games. It's why they are remembered year after year by Redskins fans. It's why Timmy Smith will forever be fondly recalled in Washington -- 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins' 42-10 Super Bowl XXII victory over the Denver Broncos. It's about being great when it counts the most. Manley certainly was that, recording sacks in the 1983 Super Bowl win over the Miami Dolphins and in that championship against the Broncos.
So while it was great to see the current Redskins mingling with fans on the 80th anniversary tour, chances are if they want a return trip in 10 years or so, they'll need to produce some Super Bowl memories of their own.