240 and counting: At 38, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher still hasn't missed an NFL game
RICHMOND, Va. – Look at London Fletcher's career stats, particularly the column of numbers under the letter "G."
Nothing but 16s for "Games" played. On and on and on. Through four years with the St. Louis Rams. Five with the Buffalo Bills. Six with the Washington Redskins.
It's become routine to say that Fletcher has never missed a game in his NFL career. It's routine to hear him say that he's been "blessed" with "good genes." It's routine to hear him insist that he only thinks about his playing streak when reporters bring it up.
And, every year that passes, the routine becomes more remarkable.
Robert Griffin III has missed a game, and he's only played one season. Keenan Robinson, the 2012 draft pick groomed as a possible successor to Fletcher, has already missed five games and had two serious shoulder injuries. He might not play at all this season.
Fletcher's streak is now at 240, the longest among active players in the NFL. He's been credited with 1,321 tackles and 608 assists, which translates into nearly 2,000 confrontations with running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks — and not a single impact that caused him to miss the next game.
"London," Griffin said, "has been amazing."
Fletcher is now 38, back for another year captaining the Redskins defense as an inside linebacker. It wasn't a sure thing that he would make it back this time. There were times last year when he couldn't practice because of injuries. Then he kept silent for a while after the end of the season and waited until he had ankle and elbow surgeries to proclaim that, no, he never seriously considered retirement.
"It's just something where you get up every day and go to work and don't think about it," Fletcher said. "It's pretty much how I go about my business. I get up every day, come to work and don't think about the durability part until somebody brings it up. I feel good. I try to do a lot of different things to keep myself feeling good. The training staff does a great job of working with me, and the coaches do a great job of monitoring my reps and things like that. So I don't think about it a whole lot."
Besides, now is not the time to quit. The Redskins went 32-48 in Fletcher's first five seasons in Washington, and the losing was starting to wear on him. Now they are the reigning NFC East champs. They are on the rise with Griffin, whose own medical marvel is the speed in which he's returned from reconstructive knee surgery.
"Well, if I was impressed with him before (last) season, how do you think I feel about him now?" Fletcher said with a laugh. "I think he exceeded all expectations, and that's really hard for a guy like him to come in with such high expectations. And when you think about it, this franchise has been looking for a franchise quarterback for, I don't know, over 20 years. So to finally get one ..."
Fletcher is two-plus seasons away from the record for consecutive games played by a defensive player, Jim Marshall's 282-game run from 1960-79. He's in the last year of his latest contract, but that's immaterial. As long as he keeps playing well — he's been second-team All-Pro the last two years — the Redskins will want him back.
"Really, in the National Football League, you are always on your last year of your contract for the most part," Fletcher said. "This is just the nature of the business. I have scratched and clawed my whole career. I came in as an undrafted free agent, so I was on the last year of my contract 16 years ago when you really think about it. It's not something I spend a lot of time with. I'm focused on this season and that's pretty much it."
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