Redskins' Fletcher in home-field finale Sunday

David Elfin, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ASHBURN, Va. -- Another week, another shutdown for the Washington Redskins.
On Dec. 11, there was a crisis as coach Mike Shanahan revealed that he was benching quarterback Robert Griffin III for Kirk Cousins ... and Shanahan continued to answer questions about his job security.
The latest shutdown announcement was a bit more cheerful. Linebacker London Fletcher, a team captain, said Wednesday that Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys almost surely will be his final performance on the Redskins' home field.
"With this being the final home game, I wanted to get an opportunity to say goodbye to the burgundy and gold faithful," said Fletcher, whose contract is expiring. He said he came into the season 90 percent certain that it would be his last year. "The fans at FedEx (Field) have been so (gracious) to me (during) my seven years in Washington. (This is) an opportunity to go out with a bang, get the fans riled up, beat the Cowboys. What better way to end it?"
Actually, last season's first NFC East championship in 13 years would have been a much better way to end it than this season's 3-11 mess, but Fletcher said he felt his that his work nurturing fourth-year inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. to succeed him wasn't as complete as it is now.
"What every player wants to do is leave a legacy, putting some seeds in place that hopefully will grow and (flourish) years down the road (to make them) proud of this organization," said Fletcher, who admitted that he wished he could have gone out like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis did, as the captain of a Super Bowl champion last season.
"In order to do it at the level that I've been able to do it, it takes a lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice in time spent training, leading and watching extra film. I've enjoyed doing it, but I've missed a lot of other parts of my life (his wife and three children under 7). I felt like I've accomplished everything I can accomplish in the National Football League."
Fletcher's accomplishments are especially impressive considering what he overcame to reach the NFL. Before Fletcher turned 13 on Cleveland's rough East Side, his sister was raped and murdered, his grandmother died in his arms, and his brother embarked on a path that led him to prison. He found salvation in the church and in sports. He went to Saint Francis (Pa.) University on a basketball scholarship before realizing he had a better chance of making the pros in football. He wound up transferring to Division III John Carroll University.
Of course, Fletcher didn't just make it to the NFL. He captained St. Louis' special teams as a rookie in 1998 before becoming the starting middle linebacker the next season for the Rams' only Super Bowl championship squad.
"The way I've approached it is to go about my business, being accountable and not wanting to let my teammates and the coaching staff down," Fletcher said. "I've always wanted to be able to be there for them and know that they can count on me."
Riley and two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo both said it would be jarring to come to work every day without Fletcher.
"You almost take him for granted because he's always here, always the vocal leader," Orakpo said. "London's so special with his leadership, the way he plays the game so hard with so much intensity. I learned a lot from him. He's the total package. It's crazy that he's never missed a game. It's gonna be a whole other direction once he officially retires."
Washington coach Mike Shanahan said that Fletcher's knowledge of the game was key to allowing a 5-foot-10, undrafted player from a Division III school to start 15 seasons for three teams, win a Super Bowl and two NFC titles and lead the league in tackles in 2011.
"I've never been around a guy quite like London," said Shanahan, who coached Hall of Famers John Elway, Gary Zimmerman and Shannon Sharpe in Denver. "The way he prepares for every game is like he's preparing for a Super Bowl. The reason why he's able to make the plays he does is because of his mental preparation and his ability to go out there and play physical football. He likes to hit. For the body to be able to take the hits he's taken and not miss games is kind of unheard of."
Griffin's locker is next to that of Fletcher. The second-year quarterback, even during his sabbatical from action on the field, respects input from the veteran linebacker.
"I'll always remember when I came in this locker room and they sat me next to him," Griffin said. "That was for a reason. I've learned a lot from him. There's not a guy in this locker room you could mention that he hasn't helped.
"I just gotta do what Fletch told me, exhale, just let it all go."

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