WASHINGTON – Sunday will be London Fletcher’s 255th consecutive game.
On Wednesday, he announced that total likely won’t surpass 256.
In a move that was only mildly surprising, Fletcher announced he’s 99 percent sure the disappointing 2013 season would be his last in Washington. The announcement was both melancholy and welcome in Ashburn, as this diversion served as a much-needed shift in the narrative coming out of Redskins Park.
Which is why I find the announcement’s timing rather curious. Just as the talk surrounding the job status of head coach Mike Shanahan, the desire of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to stay with his father in D.C., and the viability of Robert Griffin III as a franchise quarterback reached a crescendo, here comes Fletcher in the nick of time to flip the discussion to his swan song in Landover against the Cowboys, and whether or not he deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I believe Fletcher truly wanted a chance to say farewell to the Redskin faithful, but I also wouldn’t put it past this misguided franchise to throw him out there as an obvious end around to the dysfunction that has dominated the ink surrounding this team over the last month.
But that’s not what we’re here for. Let’s talk #59.
Fletcher’s story serves as motivation for anyone seeking to make it in his/her chosen field against the odds. He was an undrafted rookie who made the St. Louis Rams roster in 1998 and started at middle linebacker for the Super Bowl Championship team in 1999. Staying on a roster into the turn of the century is victory enough for a guy who wasn’t drafted; playing 16 seasons and starting 213 consecutive games is practically unbelievable.
Fletcher played four seasons in St. Louis, the next five in Buffalo, and then seven seasons manning the middle in the Nation’s Capital. Even though he signed with the ‘Skins to reunite with Gregg Williams (who coached him in Buffalo before becoming the defensive coordinator in Washington), he stuck on the Redskins roster even though his 5’10, 248 pound frame wasn’t a textbook fit in the 3-4 scheme implemented when Mike Shanahan came to town in 2010.
In addition to his longevity, Fletcher has been a tremendous team leader and a consistent performer. Even though he was the self-proclaimed Susan Lucci of the NFL, Fletcher made his way onto four Pro Bowl teams late in his career.
I doubt he’ll make it to the Hall of Fame, but I think Fletcher should garner serious consideration. He’s one of only six players in NFL history to tally 35 sacks and 20 interceptions at the linebacker position.
Furthermore, put his numbers up against Ray Lewis’. They’re not as different as you might think.
Lewis made a name for himself not only as a force on the field, but as a magnet for attention off it. His pregame dance routine and fiery (and often unnecessarily over-the-top) speeches made him virtually impossible to ignore. And in four years- -when he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot–he won’t be.
However, Fletcher is a force in his own right. He lacks some of the signature impact plays Lewis made, and he certainly hasn’t played on as many relevant teams. But he has been a solid leader who has been the key player on some good defenses, and shares Lewis’ leadership ability that allows him to get the most out of his teammates.
The Redskins have made many free agent mistakes, but they haven’t had a greater hit than Fletcher in recent years. It’s undeniable that his play has declined in 2013 (and that he’s picked the right time to call it quits), but it’s equally as undeniable that he’s a great player who will deserve the great ovation he’s almost certain to receive at FedEx Field on Sunday.
He won’t go out on top like Ray Lewis, but here’s hoping one of the greatest Redskins of all-time is at least rewarded for his service in Burgundy and Gold with a win over Dallas.