London Fletcher didn't cry -- iron men fear rusting.
Fletcher, a middle linebacker for the Washington Redskins, will play his 255th straight game Dec. 22 since entering the NFL in 1998 from a small school named John Carroll, which few could pick out on a map. Dec. 22 will be Fletcher's final home game and Dec. 29 his final game ever, he announced Dec. 18.
Fletcher said at his retirement press conference that he's 99 percent sure he's retiring at the end of the 2013 season. Some Super Bowl contender looking for a 39-year-old linebacker next season might lure him back, but let's just say 99 percent today is 100 percent next year.
He's one of the lucky ones. Few NFL players retire gracefully and sans serious injury. Maybe 1 percent exit without regret. For Fletcher, it's time to go home to Charlotte, where his wife and three young children rarely see him come football season.
Good for him.
At 38, Fletcher hasn't had his best season in 2013; too often, he has been a step slow covering ends. But it was still another season that's 10 years after many linebackers are out of the NFL.
Is Fletcher worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019? He wouldn't say, but he is certainly on the cusp. His starting streak is the longest by a player since the AFL-NFL merger. Fletcher's 256 games when retiring will be third overall among linebackers behind Clay Matthews (278) and Junior Seau (268). Fletcher has 2,033 career tackles, 39 career sacks and 23 career interceptions.
The numbers go on and on. He has the most consecutive starts among current players (213) and is fourth in NFL history to play at least 250 straight games. With two more tackles in 2013, Fletcher will have had 14 straight seasons of 100-plus tackles.
That's not bad for a college free agent in 1998. That's right, nobody selected him. Fletcher spent four years with St. Louis and five in Buffalo before coming to Washington in 2007.
Now, it seems, Fletcher knows he's finished. He's probably been thinking about it for the past five years. His offseason conditioning programs needed to be tougher to stay up with the youngsters. He needed to watch more film to anticipate offenses. Fletcher spent the time, but it started to take more out of him. Finally, he said enough.
"Sunday is not the problem," Fletcher said. "I know I could still go out and make plays. [But] I've missed other parts of my life.
"My work is done here in Washington. [Fellow linebacker] Perry Riley doesn't need me anymore. I felt like I accomplished everything I want to accomplish."
Certainly, Fletcher has groomed Riley to be Washington's presence in the middle, but his locker at Redskins Park has been next to quarterback Robert Griffin III's the past two years. The team wanted its oldest player to teach its newest star how to be a leader, how to handle pressure and what life is like in the NFL.
Offensive and defensive players don't often spend much time together on NFL teams. There are too many separate meetings and different ends of the practice fields for them to have much of a relationship with someone outside their unit.
But Fletcher made time. He spoke of wanting to leave a legacy with his on-field play, but the spillover on Griffin will be equally important. Indeed, Fletcher said that his advice now for Griffin was to take a breath during the offseason, refocus and return hungry. That sounds just like Fletcher's system.
Fletcher chose not to simply fade away with an offseason call to the team saying he would retire. His final home game, Dec. 22 against Dallas, will be his present to fans for their support. He'll run out of the tunnel one more time to applause that goes both ways.
The previous home game was a deflating, 45-10 loss to Kansas City, and Fletcher said it had hurt him to his core.
"I want to leave with great memories," said Fletcher of the finale.
Certainly, he has already left fans with great memories.