Good middle linebackers are the heart and soul of a defense.
They are smart enough to dissect the tendencies of an offense and get their teammates on the same page.
Although they are in the middle of the scrum on every play, the linebacker is durable enough to withstand punishment.
Last, but not least, a good middle linebacker sets the tone for the defense by unleashing thunderous hits.
Without a doubt, London Fletcher was all of the above.
Fletcher led the defensive units of three different franchises and helped one win a Super Bowl.
London Fletcher (Washington Red Skins) pic.twitter.com/XubQaOl3U6
— American Football 画像 (@AFpicture_japan) September 11, 2013
In 16 NFL sessions, Fletcher had the durability to play in over 250 straight games.
Fletcher also packed a punch, racking up over 2,000 tackles during his career.
What makes Fletcher’s stats even more remarkable is the fact that he was overlooked by every NFL team in the 1998 NFL Draft.
This is the story of London Fletcher.
Big Talent in a Small Package
London Levi Fletcher was born on May 19, 1975, in Cleveland, Ohio.
— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) May 19, 2018
He was one of four siblings who lived in a multi-story house with their mother, Linda, grandparents, an aunt, and four cousins.
Kecia’s death drove Linda Fletcher to abuse drugs and London went from being an “A” student to barely passing his subjects.
His only saving grace was sports.
From the time he could walk, Fletcher gravitated toward athletics, especially basketball.
He began playing AAU ball in elementary school and became a point guard.
Fletcher was always small, but he was also compact and built like a tank.
His family and friends called London “Bam” (as in Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones) at a young age because of his tendency to crush anything in his path.
Fletcher’s size was perfect when running the point for his basketball teams as he was fearless and could dish the ball to teammates at will.
Two-Time State Champ
Just as he was finishing middle school, Fletcher was contacted by the basketball coach at St. Joseph High School about playing for the Vikings.
At the time, Fletcher was still bombing his classes and his application to the private school was turned down.
“The priest in admissions told London, ‘Get your grades back up,'” said Mike Moran, Fletcher’s high school basketball coach. “He went right back to straight A’s the next year.”
It didn’t take long after joining the Vikings that Fletcher took over.
He started at point guard for two seasons and helped guide St. Joseph’s to two consecutive state titles.
Then, just for the fun of it, Fletcher joined the football team his senior year and played running back and linebacker.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph Academy (Cleveland, OH)@VASJFootball
Desmond Howard ’88 (St. Joseph)
London Fletcher ’93
Bob Golic ’75 (St. Joseph)
Mike Golic ’81 (St. Joseph)
Elvis Grbac ’88 (St. Joseph) pic.twitter.com/EE2u3K5LqG
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) December 16, 2021
The little bowling ball that could crushed opponents.
Fletcher played well enough during his lone season on the gridiron that college coaches took notice.
However, basketball had always been Fletcher’s first love and he took a scholarship offer to play at St. Francis College in Pennsylvania.
Short College Hoops Career
Fletcher arrived in Loretto, Pennsylvania, in 1993 intent on becoming a basketball star.
However, he barely played as a freshman and somehow still fouled out twice.
During practices, Fletcher’s 5’9”, 220-pound frame went full force into the action, and teammates suffered because of it.
— R. Richardson (@NatsJunkie) September 4, 2022
Fletcher’s 100-MPH playing style injured some of his fellow players and put them in the trainer’s room.
Eventually, the idea of playing college hoops soured on Fletcher and he dropped out of St. Francis and returned home.
He then spent the next year trying to keep his family safe and secure and also keep his mother off drugs.
The stress became too much and Fletcher knew he had to make a change or risk becoming consumed by a negative lifestyle.
“Saint Francis was what I needed at the time,” said Fletcher. “Peace and quiet. Dealing with my mother was really affecting me. But after a year and a half, I had to go back.”
Fletcher found out that Moran had been hired as the basketball coach at John Carroll University located in University Heights, Ohio.
It didn’t matter that the Blue Streaks competed at the Division III level, Fletcher wanted to compete and he reached out to his former coach.
Moran was only too happy to have him.
Fletcher’s Unique Path Back to Football
To say that Fletcher took a circuitous path to play college football is an understatement.
He suited up for the John Carroll basketball team for the second half of the 1994-95 season, but it was obvious to his coach that Fletcher was playing the wrong sport.
“London won’t want me to say this,” said Moran in 2013, “but he played basketball like he played football. He might as well have started every game with two fouls, because he was going to get them quickly.”
In the fall of 1995, Fletcher returned to the sport of football and had a tough time cracking the starting lineup for the Blue Streaks.
He had been away from the sport for more than two years and Fletcher had to re-train his mind and body.
With hard work and determination, Fletcher became a starting linebacker in 1996 and did so well that he was named a first-team All-American and an All-Ohio Athletic Conference pick.
The Blue Streaks won nine games that season and 10 more in 1997, the most at that time in program history.
London Fletcher- John Carroll pic.twitter.com/d0sSKUZrjd
— Nyejel (@GregariousNYE) November 20, 2022
John Carroll also won its first-ever playoff game and many former teammates and coaches point to Fletcher as the main reason why the team rarely lost.
“London was an example of a Division III athlete who was, literally, out of his league,” said John Priestap, a former teammate. “He had such an ability to close gaps and run down ballcarriers. He was completely, utterly dominant.”
As a senior in 1997, Fletcher had a school-record 202 total tackles including a single-game record 29 against Ohio Northern.
That led to another first-team All-American and All-OAC designation.
John Carroll University Alumnus London Fletcher Elected To College Football Hall Of Fame https://t.co/7BoxchvV36
— John Carroll Sports (@jcusports) January 7, 2019
Furthermore, Fletcher was named the conference’s Most Outstanding Linebacker and the Football Gazette selected him the Division III Linebacker of the Year.
“It definitely shows high school players that regardless of where you play in college, it’s not just all about the Division I schools and Power 5 conferences,” Fletcher said. “If you can play football, they’ll recognize you, and the cream always rises to the top.”
In 2017, Fletcher’s number 3 was retired by the John Carroll program, and in 2019, he became the first Blue Streaks player or coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Before the 1998 NFL Draft, Fletcher was invited to the NFL’s Combine in Indianapolis.
While there, he ran a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash and surpassed many of the linebacker prospects thought to be Day 1 picks.
Fletcher himself was considered a Day 2 prospect, only that didn’t happen.
Instead, he was passed over by every NFL team during the event.
Late addition: 30 LBs were selected in the 1998 NFL draft.
Every team that passed on London Fletcher had to be reminded of their mistake and his excellence for 16 years. And that's it!
— chaz (@GrandpaGronk) May 19, 2023
He could have been defeated and down on himself, but that just isn’t Fletcher’s way.
“That was a time for me having to persevere and work harder,” Fletcher said in 2019. “Yeah, I’m discouraged, but when I look at all of the things that I’ve accomplished at the collegiate level and they don’t draft me, so am I going to dog it out and work harder and persevere or am I going to cave in?”
The St. Louis Rams offered him an opportunity after the draft and Fletcher took it.
When he met with then-general manager Charlie Armey, Fletcher just had one question.
“Why didn’t you draft me?” asked Fletcher.
“Because at your height, we were pretty sure nobody else would, so we didn’t have to,” said Armey.
Fletcher then asked for a bonus and Armey responded that undrafted players don’t get signing bonuses.
“I’m gonna sign this contract,” Fletcher said, “and next year I’m coming back for some more money.”
Super Bowl Champion
Sure enough, Fletcher made the Rams roster as a backup in 1998 and contributed on special teams.
He started the final game of the regular season and made life difficult for the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was the best the position had been played all year,” said Dick Vermeil, then the Rams’ coach. “When it came time to evaluate players for the next season, I said, ‘London Fletcher is our middle linebacker.'”
St. Louis finished the 1998 season 4-12.
London Fletcher brought energy, passion, & grit to the field. He won a championship with the Rams but his Ram career will always have a “What if”. Fletcher would go on to play for 12 more seasons after St. Louis. He would be looked at as franchise legend if the Rams retained him pic.twitter.com/CMtf1K5mLF
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) June 24, 2020
Then, in 1999, the Rams became the Greatest Show on Turf.
With quarterback Kurt Warner and a high-flying offense, St. Louis won 13 games and crushed Minnesota in the divisional round before sliding past Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship game.
Fletcher started every game at middle linebacker and had 89 tackles, one safety, two passes defended, and three sacks.
During the first two rounds of the playoffs, he had 20 combined tackles and an interception to help get the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV.
In the NFL’s biggest game, Fletcher pounded the Tennessee Titans ball carriers for 11 tackles and St. Louis did just enough to win its first-ever Super Bowl, 23-16.
— St. Louis Rams History (@STLRamsHistory) February 1, 2023
Years later, Fletcher called the victory his fondest memory in professional football.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than that. The thing is, I did it at such a young age, I don’t think I truly appreciated it as much as I could have. I still enjoyed it and it was a great accomplishment from a team standpoint, but as I’ve gotten older and realized how difficult it is to get to the playoffs, I’ve had a greater appreciation for being able to win it,” Fletcher said in 2014.
Fletcher Becomes a Bill
For the next two years, Fletcher continued putting the wood to opponents and tallied 252 combined tackles, 10 sacks, and six interceptions combined.
It didn’t matter that he was small, Fletcher proved that it wasn’t the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog that mattered most.
In 2001, the Rams returned to the Super Bowl with Mike Martz as the head coach, but St. Louis fell to the New England Patriots, 20-17.
Then, in the offseason after Super Bowl XXXVI, the coaching staff decided that Fletcher was too small to be the backbone of the Rams’ defense and released him.
Now a free agent, the Buffalo Bills were quick to pounce and signed Fletcher to a five-year deal worth $17.1 million.
He spent five years with the Bills and the team never had more than nine wins and failed to make the postseason.
— Marlon Kerner (@marlonkerner46) May 19, 2016
That didn’t matter to Fletcher.
He played for the love of the game and led by his ferocity and consistency, never missing a game while in Buffalo.
“Fletch hasn’t let go of that free-agent mentality,” said Takeo Spikes, who played alongside Fletcher from 2003 to ’06 in Buffalo. “He had to work for everything in his life, so he’s still got the chip on his shoulder.”
Mr. Fletcher Goes to Washington
After a 2006 season in which Fletcher had 146 tackles and his first two career touchdowns (one interception and a fumble return for scores), the Bills let him walk.
In his first year in Washington, Fletcher had his second career pick-six along with 129 tackles and 10 passes defended.
London Fletcher, in my opinion, was the greatest LB to play for the Redskins. Also, our greatest FA signing under Snyder. When was the last time we had a LB making plays like this? pic.twitter.com/zsyQnQFeDe
— Jay (@RedskinsCult) August 2, 2020
The 2007 Redskins went to the playoffs with a 9-7 record but were bounced in the Wild Card round by Seattle, 35-14.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Fletcher was finally acknowledged by his peers and selected for his first Pro Bowl.
That year he had 142 combined tackles, two sacks, and one interception while the ‘Skins dropped to four wins.
“First of all, he plays harder than anyone on the field,” said Redskins nosetackle Barry Cofield. “Second, he’s always calling out [the offense’s] plays, presnap, and he’s right a lot more often than he’s wrong.”
In 2010, Fletcher had another Pro Bowl year and then received All-Pro recognition in 2011 after leading the NFL with 166 tackles (also a career-high).
Then, after four years, Washington returned to the postseason in 2012 with a 10-6 record and Fletcher collected 139 tackles.
Once again, the Seahawks ended the Redskins season with a 24-14 win in the Wild Card round.
Fletcher played in his 16th NFL season in 2013, but the nicks, bumps, and bruises were taking their toll.
By the end of the year, Fletcher hadn’t missed a start since the 2000 season and he had 111 tackles and two sacks in ‘13.
Redskins great London Fletcher will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame later this year.
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 8, 2019
He also tied the record for most consecutive starts by a linebacker (208) late in the season.
“I played,” Fletcher said, “and I played extremely well.”
Playing in the trenches of such a brutal game wore Fletcher to the bone and he announced his retirement after the season.
He had 2,039 combined tackles, 109 tackles for a loss, 39 sacks, 23 interceptions for 168 return yards and two touchdowns, 96 passes defended, 19 forced fumbles, and 12 fumble recoveries including one returned for a score.
Fletcher played in two Super Bowls, winning one, and was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, the 2012 Bart Starr Award winner for his service in the community, and was later named one of the Commanders’ 90 Greatest players and placed in Washington’s Ring of Fame.
The list of Semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024 includes London Fletcher, who won a Super Bowl with the @RamsNFL and is part of the @Commanders Ring of Honor. pic.twitter.com/yVu4qxQMWv
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) November 28, 2023
Asked in 2014 if he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Fletcher answered in the affirmative.
“I think my career was Hall of Fame-worthy,” said Fletcher. “I don’t have a vote, but when you look at the other linebackers who were Hall of Famers, and you look at every possible measuring stick, you can’t discredit me. I don’t see how it’s a debate, but it’s hard because one of the things I’ve always tried to be is a humble player and a humble person. I don’t want to send the wrong message. But I think when you look at the productivity, the durability, the longevity, I’m in there.”
In 2023, Fletcher was picked as a semi-finalist for the 2024 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Life After Football
For several years during and after his NFL career, Fletcher gave back to the community with his London Bridge Foundation to help underprivileged children with mentorship and life skills.
After working at CBS, Fletcher was hired in 2022 by the Washington Commanders as their in-game analyst.
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) April 28, 2022
Fletcher and his wife, Charne, have been married since 2006 and the couple have three children, Paige, Brooke, and Steele.