Not too long ago,
Now he’s a regular at the annual all-star game.
Fletcher earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl nod earlier this month when Chicago’s Brian Urlacher backed out of the game.
Who would turn down a trip to Hawaii? Not Fletcher.
As the NFL’s leading tackler last season, he has earned it, too.
The Pro Bowl is set for this Sunday, Jan. 29, at Aloha Stadium Honolulu. Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET and the game is broadcast on NBC.
Fletcher is the Redskins’ lone Pro Bowl representative – not surprising given the team finished 5-11 and in last place in the NFC East for the fourth consecutive year.
In Hawaii, Fletcher is making sure he soaks up the experience, bonding with fellow Pro Bowlers and enjoying the sights and sounds with family, friends and fans.
Once the Pro Bowl is over, Fletcher’s attention turns to his contract status.
He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time since 2007 when he joined the Redskins after four seasons in St. Louis and five seasons in Buffalo.
His first choice? Return to the Redskins.
“I like playing here,” Fletcher said at the end of last season. “When I came here, I wanted to help establish a tradition of winning, get this franchise back to the Redskins of old. Obviously the business aspect [of free agency] has to be worked out and you go from there. But my first choice is to stay in Washington, if they want me.”
Fletcher finished last season with 224 consecutive games played, tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber for the longest among active players. He also had 178 consecutive starts, second to Barber's 198.
Fletcher, 36, said he does not think about the streak very much – only when someone mentions it him.
“When you think about longevity and the consistency that God has blessed me to be able to do this – I kid and say it doesn’t mean a lot to me, but it does,” he said. “To be able to perform at a level like I’ve done at and to have done it for so long, I don’t take it for granted at all and I approach each week, each game, the same.”
The next question is, how much longer does Fletcher expect to play?
“The thing is, I’m playing so well,” he said, laughing. “But God has blessed me to still play this game at a high level. Beyond that, we’ll just see.”
Both head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last season that Fletcher is the kind of player they want to lead the Redskins’ defense.
“He is playing at a very high level,” Shanahan said. “What I mean is you want him on your football team. You want him out there as much as you can have him out there. And you can’t say that about a lot of players as they get older.”
Shanahan said he saw a similar work ethic in Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice when he coached him in San Francisco in the early 1990s and wide receiver Rod Smith when he coached him in Denver in the late 1990s.
“Every time that they were on the field, they represented not only themselves but the organization. They took a lot of pride in it. They never wanted to put a bad product on the field. That’s what you’re hoping you get with veteran leadership.”
Added Haslett: “I think London is the perfect guy to help keep building this defense. He has a lot of time left in him. We just have to take care of him and make sure that we don’t wear him out.”
With free agency set to begin on March 13, Fletcher has been asked whether he would prefer to play for a franchise expected to be a 2012 Super Bowl contender instead of a Redskins team undergoing a youth movement.
The obvious answer?
Who wouldn’t want to play for a Super Bowl contender?
Fletcher, to his credit, believes the Redskins are on the right track. And he knows firsthand that NFL fortunes can change in just one year.
In 1999, Fletcher was in his second NFL season when he helped a 4-12 St. Louis Rams team become Super Bowl champions.
“You can’t say for sure who is going to be a Super Bowl contender [each year],” he said. “You look at San Francisco [6-10 in 2010] and then they went 13-3. Did anybody think San Francisco would make it to the NFC Championship game [in 2011]? You just don’t know.”
As for the Redskins, Fletcher is excited about the team’s youth movement and revamped roster.
“When you look at the team, the talent and the character has gotten better,” he said. “Injuries took a toll on us last year and some guys gained some valuable experience. We haven’t learned how to win the close games just yet, but it takes time.”