A spot in the Pro Bowl doesn’t carry the same weight as making the All-Pro team and it certainly doesn’t mean as much to many of the players who are accustomed to making the winter flight to Honolulu. But for London Fletcher – a player who has never been selected outright to a Pro Bowl – it means the world.
In fairness, no one has ever given Fletcher his due as one of the last remaining old-school defensive players. He’s a product of a different era – one that’s long gone. Yet year after year his old-school mentality has worked. He’s played in 223 straight games and usually sits atop the league in tackles.
The art of tackling – lost upon many younger players – is one of many things that set Fletcher apart. With concerns surrounding concussions at an all-time high, many younger players should take note of his textbook form: head up, tackling low and wrapping up to finish the job.
With the NFL on a mission to decrease head injuries and make examples of reckless defensive play, a nomination for Fletcher would have been the perfect choice. Instead, the NFC squad will consist of Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher.
Of course form tackling doesn’t merit a Pro Bowl. No matter though because Fletcher’s stats against both the run and pass are among the best in the NFC. If any Redskins were to have garnered Pro Bowl honors, then Fletcher would have been the choice.
"Deep down inside, the players and coaches know what London brings to the table, they know what type of player he is, they know he's a Pro Bowl player and he deserves to be there," Brian Orakpo told the Associated Press.
Opposing receivers caught 63.3 percent of the passes thrown their way against Fletcher. There wasn’t a single NFC inside linebacker who posted a lower percentage caught than that. According to Pro Football Focus Fletcher was responsible for 58 stops (the cumulative number of solo defensive tackles made on plays which constitute an offensive failure), good for second most amongst NFC inside linebackers.
“You’ve just got to look at film and you know London played at a Pro Bowl level all year,” said Mike Shanahan. “He’s sure deserving of being a Pro Bowl player…But there’s no question in my mind that he should have been a first-teamer.”
The Redskins lack of success certainly played a factor in the voting process and if Fletcher sticks around long enough for the team to turn the corner, the hope is that he’ll finally receive his reward. For now though, he’ll wait and accept the honor of being a first alternate for the third straight year.
Fletcher didn’t allow himself much time to get upset over his omission, telling reporters he wouldn’t dwell on it. Rather, he decided to be grateful for the ability of playing at such a high level for such a long time.
And for those of us that get to watch him each and every Sunday, we should be grateful too, because Fletcher plays the game just the way it was meant to be.
“Really, London to me is truly a phenomenal football player,” said Jim Haslett. “He amazes me not just with his on the field production, but what he can do off the field, his leadership, his intelligence, studies the game and then he takes it to the field. To me it’s just unheard of.”