Charles Mann never will have any trouble remembering his son's birthday.
The Washington Redskins defensive end has a game ball in his office with the date painted on it -- Sept. 15, 1991.
"It's a joy to have," Mann said. "I mean, he was born on the date on the ball. I had a pretty decent game [that day]. Five or six years from now, I can sit and talk with him about what this ball is all about."
Mann was given that game ball by his teammates for his performance against the Phoenix Cardinals, when he had four tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries.
It was a good game by any definition, but what made it remarkable was that it came after he was up all night before the game, when his wife, Tyrena, went into labor and had their son, Cameron, by Caesarian section about six hours before the kickoff.
"I had his name written on some wrist tape on my hands to kind of remind me of the day. During the course of the game, I kept looking down at it, because I had no sleep and I needed some things to motivate me," Mann said.
Mann's performance in that game helps explain why the Redskins have three straight home shutouts and why he's making a remarkable comeback after being hampered by an ailing knee all last season.
Mann, who got his fifth and sixth sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, had only 5 1/2 all last year, and the outside pass rush he's providing is one of the reasons the Redskins have been so strong on defense.
During training camp, the Redskins were so worried about defensive end that they tried to get Sean Jones from the Houston Oilers. Mann wasn't even practicing at the start of training camp; he was recovering from knee surgery he underwent Feb. 3. Fred Stokes' shoulder was a question mark.
Last season, Mann and Stokes, who plays at right end for Markus Koch on passing downs, combined for 12 sacks. This season, they've got 11 in the first five games.
Mann said it brings back memories of 1985, when he and Dexter Manley combined for 29 1/2 sacks to form the best combination of defensive ends in the league. Manley had 15, and he had 14 1/2 .
When Mann's total dipped to 5 1/2 last season, there were questions whether he could be as effective without having Manley -- who was released after his drug suspension ended -- on the other side, because Mann never said how badly his right knee hurt.
"I hate to say I'm not doing well because of this or that, because it's basically an excuse and I'm getting paid to do a job and do it better than anybody else in my position," Mann said.
Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the defense, said, "We had no idea his knee was as serious as it was."
Mann said he hadn't heard the whispers that he might be on the downside.
"I don't read the newspapers or whatever, and I hadn't talked to a lot of people, so I really didn't know that I was basically being counted out, except by the coaching staff," he said.
Mann's knee isn't all the way back. He sat out practice Wednesday before returning to practice yesterday so the knee would have an extra day of rest. He said he's looking forward to the open date, Oct. 20, so he'll have two weeks to rest the knee.
Mann's string of three straight Pro Bowl appearances ended last year, but he could be on a pace to return this year. He'd like to show he can do it without Manley's getting double-teamed on the other side.
"Charles may not admit it, but, maybe in the back of his mind, he feels like [this season] he needs to come back up to the level he played to let everybody know that it wasn't just Dexter, it was him playing at that level, too," Stokes said.
Mann, 30, said he's not all the way back, but he's close.
"I'm still not turning the corner like I did two years ago, but I'm close," he said. "The deal is, I'm also smarter. I'm a veteran player."
Last week, Mann was able to teach Eagles rookie Antone Davis a few lessons, but he'll have a tougher job this week in Chicago against the Bears. He goes against veteran Keith Van Horne, a tough offensive tackle he's dueled with over the years.
"It'll be a chess match," Mann said. "He's a big ol' guy, he's strong and he's got long arms. It's a serious test.
"I've got to keep the pressure on and keep playing the way I'm capable of playing," he said. "Hey, the opportunities are endless."
NOTES: DB Alvoid Mays (sprained ankle), who's likely to miss the game, sat out practice again yesterday. . . . Redskins linemen are amusing themselves this week by mimicking the 4 Bears fans in the skit on "Saturday Night Live" who discuss how tough the Bears and coach Mike Ditka are.