Troubled football great Dexter Manley once pawned his 1983 Super Bowl ring to buy cocaine.
This week, while in Miami for Sunday's Super Bowl, the man nicknamed the "Secretary of Defense" was both ecstatic and wistful when his wife, Lydia, called from his hometown of Houston to say she'd retrieved the iconic ring from the estate of the late lawyer John O'Quinn, Manley's longtime friend and sometime employer with whom he'd entrusted the redeemed ring.
"I didn't want to give up my Super Bowl ring to drug addiction," said Dexter Manley, whose life has been a roller coaster of gridiron highs and jailhouse lows. It's been more than a decade since he's held that diamond-encrusted ring celebrating his Washington Redskins' defeat of the Miami Dolphins in January 1983.
The Yates High School grad played defensive end for Oklahoma State University before spending 11 flamboyant and fabled years in the NFL, most with the Redskins. In 1991 he was banned from the league after failing drug tests. He was repeatedly arrested for crack cocaine possession and was imprisoned more than once.
In 1999 O'Quinn and the Manleys flew in the lawyer's jet to see Manley's cousin Eric Dickerson inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On the plane O'Quinn surprised Manley with the ring the ballplayer had hocked and that O'Quinn found and redeemed.
Manley, unsure of himself, gave the ring back to O'Quinn to keep until he felt worthy again.
"O'Quinn had all the toys in the world. I had a lot of faith in him," Manley said through the speaker of his wife's iPhone Wednesday. "He was a stand up guy."
Manley did wind up back in jail on a cocaine charge a few years after relinquishing the ring to O'Quinn.
O'Quinn himself had actually entrusted the precious red box and its contents to his friend, South Texas College of Law professor Gerald Treece.
Since O'Quinn's October death in a car crash, Treece has also been the executor of O'Quinn's estate. It was in his cluttered office at the law school that Treece returned the ring Wednesday.
Lydia Manley said she liked that it was a little tarnished, but still just as valuable.
"It's not all shiny right now, it's just as it should be. It's got a little wear on it," said a very poised and peaceful Lydia Manley.
Lydia Manley said she and O'Quinn both always saw the good in Dexter even through all his troubles, which included a tearful confession to Congress that despite graduating from college, he had dyslexia and couldn't read.
But, she said, O'Quinn knew her husband well. They met at a River Oaks Houston breakfast joint and the lawyer had hired the athlete as a researcher and to work on his car collection at various times over the years.
At one point in the last decade, when the man known for sacking quarterbacks asked for the ring back, O'Quinn pretended he didn't have it.
"He thought Dexter was still in his addiction," Lydia Manley said.
O'Quinn, a reformed alcoholic, knew something about addiction too.
But Lydia Manley said she thinks the friendship between her husband and the nationally famous and infamous trial lawyer had more to do with humble beginnings, hard work and outstanding achievement in their fields. The men sometimes attended church together.
"This day is bittersweet," said Lydia Manley, happy her husband deserves the ring back after being sober since 2006 but sad O'Quinn isn't around to see that day.
Dexter Manley spoke lovingly of O'Quinn over the phone and thanked Treece too.
The football player phoned Treece weeks ago to ask about the ring. Treece said his instructions from O'Quinn were to give it to the wife because she'd know when the symbolic piece should be returned.
The couple lives in Bethesda, Md., where Dexter Manley does public relations for a facilities management company, his wife said. Her husband has his 1988 Super Bowl ring, but this one has a far deeper meaning.
"I can be trusted now, I'm safe," said Dexter Manley. But he said it may be best in his wife's capable hands.