The big NFL news Wednesday was the retirement of Buccaneers safety Ronde Barber, and with that news we were reminded that Barber had played in 240 consecutive games since the start of the 1998 season. That streak was tied for the longest active streak in the NFL with Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher. As Mike Jones points out here, Fletcher is returning to the Redskins this season and is expected to be healed from his offseason surgeries in time to play in the team's opening game four months from tonight. Assuming he does that, he'll break his tie with Barber and be the undisputed holder of the league's "Iron Man" title:
Barber and Fletcher faced each other last season for what turned out to be the final time in their respective careers. Barber said at the time that although the two shared the streak, he considered Fletcher’s run more impressive because of the physicality of his position.
“I have to say doing it from his spot,” Barber said leading up to the Week 4 meeting. “I don’t know how he’s doing it. I saw him in the preseason right before the game. Neither one of us were playing, but we had a little conversation about it. I gave him props then. Doing it as middle linebacker 15 straight years is way more impressive than me. I’ve taken some hits in my day, but not nearly the type of pounding that he has over his career. Much respect for him.”
Much respect for both, of course, but Barber was right that the physical demands of Fletcher's position make his streak even more incredible than Barber's was. Fletcher's play slipped a bit early in the 2012 season, but he played better as the year went on and was as always a key figure on a Redskins' defense that played over its head during the second half. Fletcher had 67 tackles and four interceptions during the seven-game win streak that delivered the NFC East title for the Redskins and two sacks in the division-clinching Week 17 game against the Cowboys.
Fletcher will turn 38 later this month, but he's still planning on playing all 16 games in his 16th NFL season. It's pretty hard to bet against him.