The National Football League’s “iron man” walked off Washington’s FedEx Field for the final time Sunday to thunderous applause. London Fletcher, linebacker for the Redskins, has been a constant in Washington’s defense for seven years and has played in 255 consecutive games—a record among active players.
“I couldn’t imagine [next week] being much tougher than this week because this was the last time I get to wear the burgundy and gold in front of the fans here,” Fletcher said shortly after the game against the Dallas Cowboys, a 24-23 loss. He will play his final NFL game next week on the road against the New York Giants.
In addition to being known for his durability, Fletcher, 38, is respected around the league for his outstanding character. In 2011, he received the Bart Starr Award, which recognizes a player’s character and leadership on and off the field. The award, which is voted on by NFL players, recognized Fletcher’s work in the community—in 2003, he started the London’s Bridge Foundation to help underprivileged children in his hometown of Cleveland and elsewhere in the United States.
Fletcher, who often speaks publicly of his walk with God, said he felt the Lord “tugging” at him in the early 2000s: “I was tired of being tired, so to speak. Just knowing how I was living my life wasn’t the way that I was put here to live my life. Just tired of running around doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing and living ways I shouldn’t have been living. And feeling empty on the inside.”
When he first became a professional player, Fletcher thought he needed to act especially “mean” and aggressive to make up for his 5-foot-11 height—almost all NFL linebackers are over 6 feet tall. That attitude changed when he became a believer, and although he initially worried his faith might make him “soft,” instead, it gave him more fervor in every aspect of his life.
In his 16-year career, Fletcher amassed more than 1,300 tackles and 600 assists and has a strong shot at the NFL Hall of Fame. In a sport that has fallen under scrutiny recently for its violence, Fletcher’s ability to stay on the field is extraordinary. In a sport that has fallen under scrutiny recently for the poor temperament of many of its players, Fletcher’s character is exemplary.