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'Redskins Night At The Movies' Celebrates Manley, Taylor

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Upon the nationwide premiere of "Dexter Manley: A Football Life," The Redskins hosted a movie night on Friday to screen the documentary along with Charley Taylor.

When Tim Rumpff, a feature producer at NFL Films, asked his friends who they thought were some of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history, they would immediately elect Reggie White, Bruce Smith or Lawrence Taylor.

"When I ask people, Dexter Manley won't come right away," Rumpff said. "I didn't understand that, because when he retired having 97.5 sacks, he deserved to be mentioned in those names."

That prompted the genesis of "Dexter Manley: A Football Life," a documentary that premiered Friday night on NFL Network, telling Manley's incredible life story of perseverance and recovery.

He and his wife Lydia attended its debut Friday at "Redskins Night At The Movies," an event hosted by the organization several miles down the road from Redskins Park at Starplex Cinemas, where special guests were invited to screen the production and meet Manley in person.

The most respected guest of the evening was Redskins great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Charley Taylor, whose own documentary "Taylor Made For The Hall," was shown beforehand, an appetizer of sorts and an ideal companion piece for two eras of incredible Redskins history.

"I think it's befitting," Manley said before taking his seat in the theater. "I'm honored that they've embraced me. I just think it's so unique, I'm speechless. But again, I'll re-use this adjective, I'm so grateful. I'm grateful because I've weathered the storm and I'm sitting on the other side and I can see all the beautiful things life has to offer."

Both films coincidentally begin with their subjects re-visiting RFK stadium, walking through the tunnel and gazing at their former football team's house of worship.

"That was a spooky day that we went over there," said Taylor. "It was like a whirlwind."

Manley expresses the same feeling on film, running around, smiling, standing to gaze inside a place that used to be so raucous with energy, storing years of history and thrilling victories in his nine years (1981-1989) with the Redskins.  

"A Football Life" chronicles Manley's entire playing career – his time in college to his two Super Bowl championships in Washington – that remains tethered to an upbringing laced with adversity and hardship, growing up in Houston's third ward, lacking his father's love amongst his three brothers.

Manley's size and skill, as quickly noted in high school and college by professional scouts, offered him a way out. "If I had to draw a football player," says Joe Theismann, "that's him."

Once Manley became recognized as one of the most feared pass rushers in the game, so did Manley's often boisterous, unfiltered attitude and commentary find its way to the national media. Head coach Joe Gibbs even got him a job as a sheriff's deputy in the offseason just to keep him out of trouble. "Dexter being Dexter," was coined by local media, and he had become larger than life in some respects.

This is played for some laughs but the documentary, like other NFL Films productions, doesn't settle for hagiography.  

It continues into the twilight of Manley's career, a time of exposure. There is the admission of his illiteracy in front of congress. There is the suspension from the league for drug use. There are the relapses and prison stints. And there is the fallout from all of it.

Manley sheds tears a lot in this film, often mixing with the sweat beating down his face. They are wiped away by his third wife, Lydia, who remained devoted to helping him through jail into today, where Manley is nine years sober and fulfilling so many of the things in his life – reading stories to his children, being a father figure – that he had once neglected.

"I am very excited," Lydia said before the show. "For some reason I feel so positive about the message that will actually be delivered. People should take away from this movie that there is no challenge you cannot overcome. And that you absolutely can overcome any challenge that's in front of you if you discipline yourself and you stay committed to overcoming that challenge."

Rumpff, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, said co-producing this movie was a dream experience, getting to watch highlights of the players he grew up with, and watching Manley's remarkable journey unfold. He agrees with Lydia.

"It's really a lot for one person to overcome in a lifetime," he said. "And it's pretty remarkable that Dexter was able to do it."

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