ASHBURN, Va. — The linebacker with 100 percent attendance says there’s a 99 percent chance he’s done.
Washington Redskins captain London Fletcher, who has never missed a game in 16 NFL seasons, announced Wednesday that he plans to retire at the end of the year, the conclusion of a remarkable career for the undersized, undrafted player from a Division III school.
“I felt like I accomplished everything I can accomplish in the National Football League from a players’ standpoint,” Fletcher said. “Obviously everybody wants to go out like Ray Lewis with the Super Bowl parade … but it wasn’t in the cards for me.”
Fletcher left a tiny opening that he could return, but age has finally started to catch up with the player who always seemed ageless. He’s 38, and his tackles and playing time have declined this season. He’s set to be a free agent, and he’s the leader of a struggling defense that is one of many reasons the Redskins (3-11) have clinched their fifth last-place finish in six years.
“I’m about 99 percent certain that this will be my last season,” Fletcher said. “I’ve got to leave at least one percent in case I change my mind, but it’s really just about having another conversation with my wife. … I want to put on a nice suit when I go to that 100 percent.”
Fletcher, listed at 5-foot-10, has answered the call for all 254 regular season games since joining the St. Louis Rams out of John Carroll in 1998, the longest consecutive games streak for a defensive player since the 1970 merger and fourth all-time behind Jeff Feagles (352), Brett Favre (299) and Jim Marshall (282). He’s started 213 straight games — the longest such run by a linebacker in NFL history — over four seasons with the Rams, five with the Buffalo Bills and seven with the Redskins.
He said he’s thought about retirement for four or five years, but he had previously said would wait until the calm of the offseason to decide for good rather than announcing it in-season while emotions are strong. He said Wednesday he changed his mind because he wanted a chance to say goodbye to the fans at Sunday’s home finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
Fletcher once called himself the “Susan Lucci of the NFL” because he was always getting snubbed at Pro Bowl time, but the drought ended when was selected for the all-star game for four consecutive seasons starting in 2009. He was second-team All-Pro in 2011 and 2012, has played in two Super Bowls and is the only player since sacks became an official stat in 1982 to have 30 sacks, 20 interceptions and 20 forced fumbles.
Asked if he’s Hall of Fame worthy, he laughed and said there will “definitely” be room for debate when he’s compared to others who have been enshrined.
“I think he’s definitely a Hall of Fame caliber player,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “His work speaks for itself.”
Fletcher said he can still “go out and make plays” despite his age and is leaving in part to spend more time a family that includes three young children. He said he hopes to leave a legacy of helping develop teammate Perry Riley, but Fletcher’s overwhelming accomplishment is that he always found a way to play, no matter how badly he was limping from some injury after the previous game.
“I don’t know how he does it,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Any time I’m feeling bad or I don’t want to practice or I’m sore, and I look at this guy and he’s still going — you can’t complain. It’s impossible to go out there and complain because this guy’s out there doing it and he has 10-plus years on me.”
Fletcher said the streak was his way of not letting his teammates down.
“I always wanted to be able to be there for them and know that, ‘Hey, they can count on me,’” Fletcher said. “And even prove doubters wrong when there’s a little nick or bump and they think, ‘Hey, this is going to be the end of the streak’ or whatever the case may be — to be able to say: ‘You know what? I’m tough enough to get through this.’”
Notes: Fletcher also gave a passionate endorsement for Shanahan to return. “I think you should extend him, as crazy as that may sound,” Fletcher said. … Fletcher’s advice to embattled quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has been benched for the rest of the season: “This is a time for him to exhale, take a step back.” Griffin’s rambling response: “I agree with him. And I did take that advice because for some people it can push you over the edge and really frustrate you, so for me I just gotta do what Fletch told me and exhale, just let it all go because you have to let the people that know you defend you. And you can’t try to defend yourself or your family in these situations. It’s unfortunate and people won’t understand that. But people that know me, know my parents, know my family, know what goes on around here, they have to defend me.”