A week or two earlier, Lorenzo Alexander, another Redskins linebacker, asked Fletcher why he was on the sideline. Fletcher looked over.
“Wait till you’re 37,” he told Alexander.
Throughout the week, Fletcher looks every day of his age. He has flecks of gray in his stubble and occasionally limps through the locker room. But his teammates say something happens on Sundays. For those three hours, Fletcher seems hungrier and more able than his younger teammates. He plays the same way he did more than a dozen years ago, when, as a 5-foot-10 long shot, he began his career with two Super Bowl appearances in four seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
On Sunday, the aging linebacker again played with a rookie’s energy and a starving man’s hunger. He drifted backward and a few steps to his left as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles released the ball.
Fletcher was there for his fifth interception of the season. It seemed like a bad pass by a rookie, but Fletcher’s teammates and coaches believe there’s more to it, that Fletcher has a sixth sense for predicting offenses’ plans.
The play helped preserve the Redskins’ six-game winning streak and added another impressive moment to a career that includes Fletcher’s own streak: 239 consecutive appearances and 198 starts in a row. Since making the Rams’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 1998, he has never missed a game.
“Amazing,” linebacker Perry Riley said of his teammate’s run. “That’s unheard of.”
Things that seem impossible to some are reality when Fletcher is involved. Like a six-game winning streak, a rejuvenated defense and Redskins on the verge of getting the old man back to the playoffs.
For nearly six full seasons, the Redskins have been waiting — no, planning — for Fletcher’s career to show its age and the curtain to fall.
It happens to every player, no matter his talent or longevity, sometimes in his early 30s. His legs go, or his instincts dull. The only question is when it will happen, leaving the player’s abilities diminished and the team that’s paying him with a hole in its lineup.
Preemptively, the Redskins have drafted six inside linebackers since 2007, when Fletcher joined the team, and brought in more via free agency. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last week that the team had Fletcher in mind when it drafted Keenan Robinson in the fourth round in April.
“When you have an older guy,” Haslett said, “who maybe someday. . . ”
He didn’t finish the thought. Aging players don’t care for this topic; young players don’t like it much, either. It’s something like discussing a no-hitter. While the spectacle is ongoing, it’s best to just keep quiet and enjoy this slice of history.