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London Fletcher: Lone NFL Iron Man


When No. 59 runs through the tunnel on Monday night, he will take over the active NFL in lead in consecutive games played (241) and consecutive games started (200), a stunning feat for an inside linebacker.

The respective lists for consecutive games played and started are littered with specialists and quarterbacks, a testament to a precision skill with good protection—two things not afforded to inside linebackers like London Fletcher.

It's highly unusual that a player at an impact position, particular the one initiating the contact, could have so much longevity in the NFL.

Just ask former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber, who shared in London Fletcher's consecutive games played streak before retiring this offseason.

"I don't know how he's doing it," Barber said of Fletcher.  "I give him props. Doing it as middle linebacker 15 straight years is way more impressive than me.

"I've taken some hits in my day, but not nearly the type of pounding that he has over his career. Much respect for him."

While echoing the respect shown to him, Fletcher doesn't necessarily see his longevity as anything more than doing his job.

"You get up every day and go to work and don't think about it," he said with a shrug. "That's pretty much how I go about my business; I get up every day and go to work and don't think about the durability part until someone 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."

To what physical gifts does he attribute his amazing run of success?

"Genetic are one [part of it]," he said. "God blessed me with some good genes, a little bit of dumb toughness too."

That toughness has seen him play through myriad injuries over the years, but continue to answer the bell.

Last season when he could barely practice during the week, he was a surefire starter for Sunday, even while combating neck and ankle injuries.

His reason for answering the call each week is simple: an obligation to teammates.

"Really, the main thing I look at is not really wanting to let my teammates down and being honest with myself," he said. "[I] want to be out there on the football field with them. So, if I feel good enough to play, I play.

"I'm still playing and enjoying the game. I have more to give to this team, more to accomplish, and I'm ready to play."

Fletcher hails from humble roots: a kid who grew up on the mean streets of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and channeled his focus into sports.

He was a two-sport athlete at Division-III John Carroll University, mixing it up on the basketball court and gridiron. During the 1998 NFL Draft, Fletcher went undrafted, just stoking the fire that drives him to succeed.

On April 28, 1998, Fletcher signed as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams. He was one of just two college free agents to make the roster that year, and beat out all others to win Rams Rookie of the Year.

He started his first career game on December 27, 1998, and has missed only one start in the 15 seasons since, including anchoring the Rams defense in Super Bowl XXXIV. By then, he had already earned his reputation as a tackling machine.

"The way he plays the run, the way he plays the pass, he really understands the game," Eagles tight end Brent Celek told NFL Films. "He understands routes and what tight ends are going to do, and he knows where to be.

"With guys like that, it's hard to play against them because they're always in the right spot, all the time."

Fletcher is the most fearsome tackler of the 21st century, dropping more ball-carriers than any other. Between 2000-09, Fletcher made more tackles than any other NFL players (1386).

Much ballyhooed Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis came in a distant second with 1188. During the last decade (2003-2012), Fletcher out-tackled Lewis by an even greater margin: 1426 to 1121.

In 2011, at the age of 36, Fletcher led the NFL in tackles with 200.

"When you watch tape, you know you have to do something special in the game plan to account for London Fletcher," Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "He's the kind of guy that you've got to get a hat on, or else he'll wreak havoc."

Fletcher was a perennial Pro Bowl snub until his 12th season in the league, when he finally demanded the attention he deserved. He has been a Hawaiian mainstay for each of the last four years.

"He's not out in the media all the time. He just kind of quietly plays the game and makes plays," said Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. "He's always making tackles. He was all over the field."

In addition to Monday night's milestone, this season Fletcher has the opportunity to chase down the all-time linebacker leaders at consecutive starts and games played.

Former Shanahan pupil Bill Romanowski owns the record consecutive games played at linebacker, with 243, just two more than Fletcher.

Former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks owns the record for consecutive starts at linebacker with 208, just eight more than Fletcher.

But as far as No. 59 is concerned, individual accolades, while nice, distract from the task at hand and do not help win football games for 2013.

"I'm still in the process of playing. You don't really have the time to focus on what you did in the past," he said. "It's more about what I want to do in the future, what I want to accomplish.

"I still want to get better, challenge myself—not focus on the past."




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