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Redskins' Fletcher leads NFL in tackles at age 36

Tuesday - 12/20/2011, 9:37pm  ET

By JOSEPH WHITE
AP Sports Writer

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - When London Fletcher peeled off his shirt while listening to a question at his locker Tuesday, a Washington Redskins public relations intern tried to halt the proceedings.

Fletcher _ a defensive co-captain, of all people - was violating a team policy that requires a player to be wearing a shirt while being interviewed on camera.

Fletcher objected.

"I want cameras on," the bare-chested linebacker said with a smile. "On this 36-year-old body. Whose interview is this? Mine or yours?"

After all, these are the nitty-gritty final days of Pro Bowl voting, and Fletcher is in need of exposure.

Nearing the end of his 14th season, he's in a familiar spot _ leading the league in tackles while wondering if he'll ever get the all-star recognition he feels he deserves.

Fletcher once called himself "the Susan Lucci of the NFL" because his reliability and productivity had yet to be rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod. He has the most tackles in the NFL since 2000 _ more than 250 ahead of No. 2 Ray Lewis _ and has never missed a game in his career. He'll play in his 223rd in a row, keeping him tied for first with Ronde Barber among active non-specialists, when the Redskins (5-9) host the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.

Two years ago, Fletcher finally celebrated his first Pro Bowl selection, albeit because Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints couldn't play because the game was being held before the Super Bowl for the first time.

Last season, Fletcher got in again at the last minute _ and only after Brian Urlacher withdrew due to an injury.

Now Fletcher would like to know what it feels like to get in from the get-go, without waiting for someone to drop out. For him, it would mean something extra.

"Yeah, it would. To finally say my peers and the fans and the coaches finally get it," he said with another hearty laugh _ after he had put a shirt back on. "I lead the league in tackles. I'm a part of a defense that's ranked pretty high in the NFC (fifth) as well. There's a lot of good players in this league, a lot of good players at this position, but I definitely feel good about me."

The fans have finished voting, and players and coaches are mulling their ballots ahead of the formal announcement of the AFC and NFC teams next Tuesday. Hurting Fletcher, as it usually does, is Washington's losing record. Helping Fletcher is the respect he has gained for playing so well for so long.

"I kid and say it doesn't, but it does mean a lot to me," Fletcher said. "To be able to perform at a level that I'm performing at and to have done it for so long, it does mean a lot to me _ and I don't take it for granted at all. I approach every game each week the same."

Much like a veteran shortstop who compensates for diminished range by learning to position himself depending on the pitch or the batter, Fletcher has let his football smarts make up for whatever decline in athleticism he has felt with age.

"As you get older, you get wiser. The game definitely slows down for you," Fletcher said. "It's a matter of just understanding how the offense is trying to attack you. Putting yourself in a position to make plays, whether it's cheating a step to right or left, just different things like that. Understanding what teams are going to do, whether it's misdirection plays, play-action. When you're young, you may overreact to these things. Now as an older guy you sit back and relax and wait, take a deep breath."

Fletcher's contract expires at the end of the season, but he sounds like someone who's nowhere close to retiring. He says he'll be playing somewhere next year, and he'd like it to be with the Redskins.

"They know what my desires are," he said. "It's really up to them. If they want me here, they'll show me."

While the money must be sorted out _ something that's never a given _ coach Mike Shanahan made Fletcher's return sound like a foregone conclusion.

"He's playing at a very, very high level," the coach said. "What I mean is that you want him on your football team. You want him out there as much as you can have him out there. And you can't say that about a lot of players as they get older."

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