“I told them right in the middle of the field before we go in before the game, I said, ‘Hey, this is a special team. This is a special year for us,’ ” Fletcher said.
That may not seem like a news flash. But Fletcher, the unquestioned leader of the Redskins, has never said that to his teammates the past five seasons in Washington; he never felt compelled to. In fact, from the Now-It-Can-Be-Told File, Fletcher didn’t even feel compelled to be here at one juncture.
“Two years ago, I was so frustrated that I was like, ‘How much longer do I really want to do this?’ ” he said, standing in the parking lot Sunday after playing in his 184th consecutive game. (With Peyton Manning out, Fletcher and Ronde Barber have the longest active streaks.)
“It was even early in the season when I thought about [retiring]. Because you just knew everyone wasn’t putting in the effort. I wanted to get out. To remain a part of that was not fun. When you’re losing, it just emotionally drains you, and I think I was going into my 11th year. And I thought, ‘I’ve done this long enough and I don’t want to be part of the losing anymore.’”
Fletcher added he never acted on that emotion in 2009 by going to management or his agent.
“It was just a moment I had after a loss, because the next week I was out there playing my tail off,” he said. “But we had lost to Carolina, then Detroit, then struggled against St. Louis. Week in, week out, it just wasn’t a good feeling.”
Contrast that atmosphere to Sunday — not the score, but the locker room.
Sure, winning is a great deodorant; it covers up so much that smells bad. But there is something afoot in Ashburn now that resembles chemistry and camaraderie. Whether that translates to much better than 6-10 remains to be seen. But as you walk from cubicle to cubicle, it’s palpable.
“The one thing that’s been nice is this environment, this coaching staff, the players — I mean, it’s the best I’ve ever seen in my career,” Chris Cooley said. “It reminds me almost of like a high school locker room — guys are playing for each other.
“And I haven’t seen that since high school. To see a bunch of guys excited to be around each other every day that play for each other.”
The two best things the Redskins have going for them this season: For the first time in forever, few outside their locker room expect them to win even half their games. National predictions of Washington finishing 3-13 have made for a collective chip on the shoulder.
Second and maybe more important, most of the locker room doesn’t have a memory of what it’s like to fold in the fourth quarter, or earlier, of a division game such as Sunday’s.
Just 14 players on the roster were here when Mike Shanahan took over in 2010. The newbies aren’t jaded by 4-12 in 2009 and view 6-10 last year as almost an aberration.
“With this young team, guys have a different type of swagger,” Lorenzo Alexander said. “They don’t have that history of losing a lot of games. So when we get into a little battle in the first half, a little adversity, people aren’t thinking, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ This is a game we easily lose last year. We just battled back this year and won the game. Then you got [Stephen] Bowen and [Barry] Cofield who came from the Cowboys and Giants and already had success. That stuff helps in attitude adjustment.”
Cooley added, “Media-wise, we’ve had like a chip on our shoulder for four years. I’m so tired of showing up and saying, ‘This is a good football team. We’re going to have a good year.’ And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of listenin’ to everyone call in [to the radio] and dog us, everyone talk about how we’re not a good football team.
“But at the same time, there’s been no rebuttal. We haven’t played well. We haven’t played well in a long, long time.”
That’s where this group is playing with house money. In Shanahan’s genuine first year of starting over, there are no great expectations. There is no pressure. Best of all, maybe, there is a mosaic of egos blending together instead of creating division.
“In the past, it was tough to be a part of a team that was so divided, so many individuals, selfish guys,” Fletcher said. We all know the primary player he was talking about. Albert Haynesworth. It also probably didn’t hurt to part ways with two players not aging very well at their respective positions, Clinton Portis and Donovan McNabb — almost additions by subtraction.
“It’s hard enough to beat the opponent on Sunday without a full week of preparation, but when you have a distraction, it takes away from your preparation,” Fletcher said in the postgame news conference. “It feels good not to have, not to answer questions that take your focus away from your opponent.
“It’s a team. We got a bunch of guys that work. No one cares who gets the accolades. It’s just a different type of feeling. It’s really a team now.”
Before he took the podium, Brian Orakpo had dared Fletcher to show up shirtless with shades on, as he was in the locker room after his performance belied his 36 years. Fletcher considered it for a minute, thought better and went back to his all-business suit and tie. But he did add, “These guys give me so much energy, I feel young.”
When Fletcher left, an old friend from St. Louis came over and said he was amazed the player he met as a rookie in 1997 is still playing at a high level.
“Still doing my thing, 14 years later,” Fletcher said.
He’s been around so long the public-address announcer forgot to call his name prior to the game Sunday.
No matter. He likes playing here now. He’s not going anywhere. This isn’t 2009. These aren’t your circus ’Skins.