Charles Mann played in the biggest game, on the grandest stage.
He earned millions while chasing down quarterbacks in an NFL career that spanned 12 seasons, 11 with the Washington Redskins and one with the 49ers in 1994. He landed on the Redskins 70th anniversary team and is in the franchise Ring of Fame, but it is what Mann accomplished in a classroom setting in recent years that has the ebullient 56-year-old beaming these days.
He earned a business administration degree, piling up night-school classes in statistics, accounting and finance, and then followed it up with a masters degree, graduating with honors. Just because.
“I was at my daughter Camille’s graduation at USC (in 2010), which is a proud moment for any parent, but I was sad,” Mann recalled Thursday afternoon before an autograph session at Thunder Valley Casino, where on Saturday he will be inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. The Valley High School graduate will be joined in the Class of 2018 by pitcher Darren Oliver of Rio Linda, brothers Bob and Ken Forsch of Johnson and basketball leaper Darnell Hillman of Johnson.
“I was so happy for her,” Mann continued, “but I was sad for me because she got to that stage before I did. It inspired me. So at 51, I went back to school, and graduated. I took six months off, and I had the itch. I love this learning, so I went and got my master’s. And it’s as good as one of these!”
Mann pointed to a gaudy Super Bowl ring on his hand, one of two he won as a chiseled 6-foot-6 rush-end specialist for the Redskins. He capped his career with a Super Bowl championship with the 49ers and is tied with Roseville’s Tedy Bruschi, who won three Super Bowls with New England, for the most rings by a player from the area.
So his has become a complete life. He found football glory, a late bloomer who really blossomed. He is happily married to his wife of nearly 30 years, Tyrena, and they raised three children. Mann resides on the East Coast and remains involved in charities and businesses.
“It’s been good,” Mann said. “Great.”
Mann’s idols growing up were his father, Charles Sr., and 6-9 older brother Michael, who played basketball at Stanford and has been a doctor in the Bay Area for 35 years. Another brother, Donald, became a Marine. Mann would charge kids in the neighborhood a nickel just to watch Donald lift weights, grunt and scowl.
Mann’s mother didn’t want the boys playing football, but Mann couldn’t hide from Dave Hoskins, Valley’s coach with Mel Fontes in 1979.
Hoskins observed this long, lanky lad with smooth strides in a physical education class and urged the senior to give football a shot. So the coaches crafted a fib to Mann’s mother. Her son was at the library after school, not crashing into shoulder pads.
Hoskins sent game film to Nevada, where he knew graduate assistant Jeff Tisdel, and head coach Chris Ault, and, suddenly, a career was born.
“Mann was 6-5, 200 in high school, very average, but he had so much ability,” Ault told The Bee a few years ago. “I watched him play basketball and thought, ‘Gosh, I can put him anywhere – tight end, offensive line, defensive end, linebacker.’ ”
Mann emerged as an All-American at Nevada, bulking up to 250 pounds without losing speed. He was a third-round pick of the Redskins in 1983.
“Dave Hoskins! Oh, my God!” Mann recalled Thursday, laughing. “I need to thank him. I need to talk to him. But I hated that man at first. He harassed me, bugged me to play. I would walk other routes on campus to avoid him. But he knew I was an athlete. I just hadn’t come into my own. Dave was so instrumental in my success, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that his message was right: press through, forget ahead, work hard, don’t quit.
“My mom didn’t want her baby to get hurt, so she wouldn’t watch games. At Reno, my dad would drop mom off at the casino and watch me play.”
A lot of joy left the Mann family in 1981 on St. Patrick’s Day. Charles Sr. succumbed to throat cancer, the disease so relentless that it ate his jaw and face away. He was 46.
“I was a junior at Nevada, 20 years old, and I left school to help my mother,” Mann said. “My brother Michael said, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Taking care of Mom, like Dad would’ve wanted me to.’ ‘No, he’d want you to finish school.’ It was tough love.
“Dad’s death brought me life. His death made me think about life. I don’t waste any moments in life. His death changed my life for the better.”
Super Bowl and Hall of Fame pleas
Mann grows nostalgic this time of year. He appreciates the coaching greatness of Joe Gibbs, who led Washington to Super Bowl victories in the 1982, ’87 and ‘’91 seasons, and grinned in saying that he is going against the norm and rooting for a Redskins NFC East rival to be crowned on Feb. 4.
“I’m rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of Tom Brady. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
Mann hopes to land more honors, including the ultimate one: the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had 83 career sacks and played in four Super Bowls – credentials that earned him 14 nominations, the last of which came in 2016. He wonders how Jason Taylor of the Dolphins made it last season despite never competing in a Super Bowl.
“I was told eight years ago that I needed to be patient, that it’s coming,” Mann said of the Hall call. “I was told that guys will go in front of me: Richard Dent, Clyde Simmons, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan, and then it was supposed to be Charles Mann time. But another defensive end goes in last year. I won’t mention his name but he never played in a playoff game.”
Taylor actually played in nine postseason games, recording six tackles. Mann appeared in 19 playoff games and totaled 10 sacks (tackles were not consistently recorded by teams until 1994).
“I thought the Hall of Fame is a guy who changed the game, where the ultimate goal was Super Bowls and championships,” said Mann. “I don’t get it.”