- Middle linebacker London Fletcher will be playing in his 200th consecutive game, which ranks second only to Brett Favre. (Photo: Jay Westcott)
When London Fletcher leads the Washington Redskins’ defense onto the field today in Detroit, the 13th-year veteran will be playing in his 200th consecutive game, and making his 159th consecutive start, which is most impressive for a player that engages in as much physical contact as does Fletcher every single week.
Fletcher’s consecutive games streak is second only to Brett Favre (293), and his consecutive starts streak ranks fourth behind Favre (291), Peyton Manning (198) and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber (173).
At 35, the middle linebacker may be one of the oldest Redskins on the team (behind Joey Galloway, 38, and Phillip Daniels (37), but he remains one of the most productive and is tied with teammate LaRon Landry for third in the NFL in tackles with 68 through seven games.
When asked about Fletcher’s consecutive games streak, his teammates had trouble comprehending such a feat.
“Wow, 200 games?” said rookie left tackle Trent Williams. “It’s only been seven games for me and it already feels like a century, so I can’t imagine.”
Others were equally as amazed, but said given Fletcher’s professionalism and pristine preparation habits, they weren’t totally surprised.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, himself a former linebacker in the NFL, was asked about Fletcher’s streak and had trouble coming up with words to describe his admiration.
“That, that’s a lot of games. Wow. I didn’t even know that. Two hundred straight?” Haslett said. “That’s an amazing number for any linebacker. Him and Clay Matthews [Jr.] is the only other linebacker I’ve known that played as long and as productive as him. London, wow, I didn’t know it was that many. And that production at which he’s done. I’m amazed, and that’s well fitting for him.
“Hardest working guy I’ve ever been around,” Haslett continued. “Smartest linebacker. He can put people in certain spots on the field. You can tell him you want something done, and he’ll go and do it right away where a lot of guys have to see it and write it down on a board and visualize it. You can talk to him and he knows what to do. He’s as good as it gets.”
Mike Shanahan, who is usually rather reserved, praised Fletcher extensively as well, and said, “It’s a good thing there aren’t a lot of players like him, else there would be no need for coaches.”
What makes Fletcher’s success in the NFL even more impressive is the fact that he isn’t the biggest guy, standing 5-foot-10. But as Haslett points out, at 245 pounds, “He’s a well-built stocky guy, who really understands how to use his leverage well.” And another aspect that makes even the existence in the NFL impressive is the fact that he went to John Carroll University, a Division III school in University Heights, Ohio, and went undrafted before making the St. Louis Rams’ roster as a rookie free agent.
In this week’s Sunday Conversation, I spoke with Fletcher about his improbably journey, impressive body of work and the key to his success.
You’re getting ready to play in your 200th straight game. When you first came into the league, what were your expectations? Could you ever have imagined being at this point in your career?
FLETCHER: “My expectations were just to make the team. I was just hoping I made practice squad, to tell the truth. But from there, once I got the opportunity, I felt I could play. It was just a matter of taking advantage of it.”
You had a lot of obstacles to overcome. What drove you and kept you from getting discouraged?
FLETCHER: “I used to be motivated by doubters early in my career. People saying I couldn’t do something because of size or whatever. That was always a motivation. That and I always used my mother for inspiration as well.”
In what ways did your mother inspire you?
FLETCHER: “Just really wanted to make her proud, give her something to be proud about. I knew if I was able to accomplish some great things in life. I felt like if I could become a professional football player, I could make her happy.”
When was it that you had your Welcome to the NFL moment -- the event, game or play that made you realize that you could make it in this league?
FLETCHER: “Probably in training camp. We were scrimmaging the Colts, and Jackie Slater, who is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman -- offensive tackle -- was working the preseason game and he came up to me and just gave me a compliment, said he noticed how I played the game, noticed my talent. That kinda made me think, ‘Well maybe I CAN play in this league.’”
Did you have any limitations did your lack of height present, and if so, how did you overcome that?
FLETCHER: “Really, my height has been more to an advantage than disadvantage. You know how they talk about football being a game of leverage, so really my height has helped me at my position.”
Mike Shanahan praised you this week, saying it’s a good thing there aren’t of players like you because there wouldn’t be a need for coaches. Haslett can’t say enough about you. How does that make you feel to be so well-respected by your coaches?
FLETCHER: “It means a lot. It’s a lot of talented players in this league, when you think about it. We all have talent. Then you have to look and see, ‘What’s going to separate me from my opponent?’ So, really it’s about first and foremost studying your stuff and knowing what you need to do, and then studying your opponent. I really try to study and make sure I’m on top of what we need to do, and what I need to do in particular.”
Was there anyone in particular who taught you the importance of studying, and preparation?
FLETCHER: “I’ve always enjoyed the game of football, and always enjoyed the preparation that went into it. Even as a rookie, I always watched a lot of film. I didn’t have much else to do. I was never really into video games, so in my down time, I liked watching a lot of film, and it just carried over. Once some veterans showed me HOW to study, that really helped me out. Roman Phifer really showed me how to study opponents, Mike Jones helped me, Todd Collins -- those guys.”
What’s been the key to your durability?
FLETCHER: “Really God’s favor, first and foremost. Being blessed with great genes, really enjoying and wanting to be out there with my teammates. I’ve played hurt, I’ve played injured. If it’s something, I just have a high threshold for pain as well, I guess.”
Haslett said he’s been watching you for a long time, but doesn’t see any drop-off in your play. Do you notice any decline, and how do you make up for it?
FLETCHER: “There are some things that my knowledge has increased in as far as understanding the game. So some of the things I can’t do as well physically as when I was younger, mentally, I can do better. So I’m able to adjust and adapt to those things.”
With most people describing you as a coach on the field, do you think you’ll ever wind up coaching?
FLETCHER: “I’m a never say never type of person. So, I would never say never. Just see what happens.”