If you actually watch football and have done so for the last 10-15 years, you’ve heard the name London Fletcher. Fletcher has been floating around the league since 1998, beginning his career with the Rams before moving on to Buffalo and then to Washington where he currently plays.
If he walked into a crowded room, most people would not recognize him, let alone know he was a professional football player. At 5’10, 248, he has a slightly larger builder than I do and I’ve never been mistaken for a professional athlete.
What you also may not know is his stat line. Fletcher is the career leading tackler among all active NFL players, and it’s not even close. He has 1921 career tackles and, barring injury, should eclipse the 2000 mark by the end of the 2013 season.
To put his numbers in perspective, Ray Lewis just finished his career with 2050 tackles and Brian Urlacher just retired with 1353 tackles. ESPN is currently debating and discussing Urlacher and Lewis as guys who redefined the middle linebacker position, though you won’t find Fletcher mentioned anywhere in that article. I was unaware that the position was redefined in the first place.
The job of a middle linebacker is to quarterback the defense and make tackles. That’s it. Whether it’s against the run or against the pass, the middle linebacker goes where the ball goes and is almost always the leading tackler on the team. Because of this, it is easy to measure the overall worth and ability of middle linebackers with one singular stat: Tackles.
During the decade of the the 2000s (2000-2009), no NFL player made more tackles than London Fletcher. He had 1386 during the decade. Ray Lewis was a not-so-close second with 1188. During the last decade (2003-2012), Fletcher out-tackled Lewis by an even greater margin: 1426 vs. 1121. Urlacher was seventh with 967.
Part of the collective overlooking of Fletcher’s phenomenal career has to do with the fact that he spent the first nine years of his career in St. Louis and Buffalo — not exactly big market media magnet-type towns. When he finally got to play in a large market (The D.C. Beltway), his Redskins were playing second fiddle in terms of success in the area. The history, tradition and fanbase of the Washington Redskins were no match for the media darlings (including Ray Lewis) to the north in terms of national media attention outside the beltway.
To make things worse, until last season, Fletcher and Lewis had the same number of Super Bowl rings. Lewis’ second ring did little to cement his legacy. Ironically, I’m not sure a second Super Bowl win for Fletcher would do anything to change the fact that his career has been grossly ignored and overlooked.
Also overlooked in London Fletcher’s stat line is his durability. Since he came into the league in 1998, the 38 year old Fletcher has suited up and played in every single regular season game throughout his career — 240 of them to be exact. For a middle linebacker, one of the most violent positions in the sport, that is unheard of.
London Fletcher never got a chance to play in Chicago and don the same uniform as legends who came before him and soak up the attention that comes with it. He never got the endorsement deals. He never gave pregame pep talks that were highlighted on national broadcasts of pregame and post-game shows. He never did any Michael Jackson-like dances when he was introduced or when he did the one thing that he was paid to do above all else — make a tackle.
London Fletcher is not that guy. He hasn’t been since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of Division III John Carroll University sixteen years ago. He wasn’t that guy when he was again the overlooked catalyst for Washington’s 2012 playoff run, this time playing in the shadow of the hype that surrounded Robert Griffin III.
What he’ll be is on the field again in 2013. He’ll be doing his job. He’ll be making tackles and playing his position as well as anyone in the history of the game has ever played it.
The question is will you notice?
BY J.P. SCOTT ON MAY 23, 2013