London Fletcher: '99 percent' retiring
ASHBURN, Va. -- He entered the NFL as an unheralded -- and undrafted -- player from Division III John Carroll University. Sixteen years later, he'll exit as an NFL record holder.
"I want to do some other things in life," Fletcher said.
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Passion and intensity were crucial in the success of retiring Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who is likely calling it quits after 16 seasons in the NFL, writes John Keim. Blog
Thus his career will end after a Dec. 29 road game against the New York Giants.
Fletcher holds the NFL record for consecutive starts by a linebacker with 213. The four-time Pro Bowler has played in 254 straight games; he's the league's active leader and the fourth player to surpass 250 consecutive games played.
Fletcher made St. Louis' roster in 1998 as an unknown from John Carroll in Cleveland and became the team's defensive leader a year later. After four seasons with the Rams, he spent five with Buffalo and seven with Washington. He's never missed a game.
His wife and three daughters live in Charlotte, N.C., during the season, which was a factor in his decision.
"For probably the last four or five years I've always thought about retiring and what do I want to do," said Fletcher, who at one point mentioned a desire to work in broadcasting. "For me, at least, in order to [play] at the level I've been able to do it, it takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice, just time spent training and meeting and watching extra film and all things I've been able to do. And I enjoyed doing it, but I missed a lot of other parts of my life."Fletcher said he knew entering the season that it'd likely be his last, saying there was a 90 percent chance. He said the craziness of the past couple of weeks at Redskins Park did not factor into his decision. He even called for embattled coach Mike Shanahan to receive a contract extension.
Fletcher said it was important for him to leave a legacy -- part of that, he said, was training fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley -- and felt like that had been accomplished.
"Obviously everyone wants to go out like Ray Lewis with the Super Bowl parade," Fletcher said. "That would be a great way to go out. But it wasn't in the cards for me if this is it. But it's more again about trying to leave a legacy and putting some seeds in place and hopefully they'll grow ... and a year down the road I can be proud of this organization. That's how I really look at it."
Fletcher played through various ailments during his career. He acknowledged this past summer that he'd suffered a concussion in training camp in 2012. He also played most of the second half of that season despite a sprained ankle that kept him out of many practices and eventually required surgery.
He sprained his ankle again a couple of weeks ago, prompting Shanahan to think the worst.
"I said, 'There's no way he'll be able to play next week,'" Shanahan said. "That looked like it was a two-, three-week injury. He's practicing on Wednesday. That's quite unusual.
"He doesn't have to play, he doesn't have to practice, but he wanted to set an example for the young guys that this is how you handle yourself as a pro."
The consecutive-games streaks have defined his career.
"That's a part of my legacy," Fletcher said. "The way I approached it is to go about my business, being accountable and not wanting to let my teammates down, and coaching staff, and always wanting to be there for them and know they can count on me.
"I'm sure the consecutive games is part of my legacy, but as time goes past you will be able to see what type of player I was as well."
Teammates marvel at what Fletcher, an undersized linebacker at 5-foot-10, 245 pounds, endures and how he handles himself.
"I don't know how he does it," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Anytime I'm feeling bad and don't want to practice and I'm sore, I look at this guy and he's still going. It's impossible to complain because this guy is out there doing it and he has 10-plus years on me, so it's remarkable what he does. It's going to be a sad day because London is special, not just for the organization but for the NFL as a whole."
Fletcher, 38, is not playing as well as he did even a year ago, when he made big plays down the stretch in Washington's seven-game winning streak. He's led the Redskins in tackles in his first six seasons but is second behind Riley this year.
However, Fletcher's importance often rose above his statistics. He was considered a coach on the field, often anticipating plays and putting teammates in better position to succeed. Even now he says his happiest times come when he's holed up in a room watching film, studying the game.
"I've been around a lot of great players," Shanahan said. "I've never been around someone that prepares like he does."
Fletcher also drew praise from Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
"An unbelievable football player," Garrett said. "He's an outstanding player. He's everything the NFL wants in a player. He plays the game the right way. Such a productive guy, a great team leader and someone I have the utmost respect for."
Now Fletcher is prepared for his career to end. His likely retirement also provided the Redskins (3-11) a chance to talk about something other than their coaching situation for a day.
Fletcher also wants the team to redeem itself from its last home game, a 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"There aren't many times on a field where I felt embarrassed, as a team, as a player," Fletcher said. "What we put on display against Kansas City hurt me to my core. I want our fans to be riled up. I want it to be a special occasion. I want us to get a win. I want to leave with great memories."
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