Against the perfect backdrop of the final Redskins-Cowboys game of his career, Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher announced his nearly certain retirement at season's end.
Closing out the final year of his contract and his seventh season in the Nation's Capital, Fletcher knew that he had nothing left to give the people of Redskins Nation—except for one last Herculean performance at FedExField.
As the band played 'Don't Stop Believing' in the final minutes before kickoff, the Redskins assembled in the tunnel to take the field for pregame introductions. Off to the side, Fletcher gathered his teammates for one final inspiration towards victory.
The offense led the team out of the tunnel, followed by personal introductions for the defense. One-by-one, the Redskins starters heard their name as the fog grew at the mouth of the Redskins helmet.
Then, as he had so many times before, Fletcher heard his name boomed over the loud speakers. A smile broke across his face as he strutted out of the tunnel for his elaborate pregame celebration.
A crowd of more than 80,000 fans roared as he ripped off his helmet, waving it emphatically before running to join his teammates at midfield.
One last time.
Fast-forward more than three hours to the waning seconds of yet another losing effort, and Fletcher heard a sound that warranted a look around the lower bowl of the stadium.
It wasn't the boos of another difficult loss in a disappointing season. It was a heartfelt ovation from members of the crowd, both Redskins and Cowboys fans alike.
FedExField was packed despite rain and thunderstorms in the forecast and a 3-11 record for the home team. Saying goodbye to one of the greatest of all time was worth the price of admission.
After the game, Fletcher bared his soul for the gathered media, calling his sendoff emotional.
"I couldn't imagine it being much tougher than this week just because this was the last time I get to wear the burgundy and gold in front of the fans here," he said. "Next week, it'll be emotional but I think this one was more emotional because it was the last time I get to play in front of the home crowd."
The Iron Man's streak of what will soon become 215 consecutive starts – the most ever recorded by a linebacker in NFL history – in all likelihood, ends with this week's season finale in New York.
Wide receiver Santana Moss, one of his few teammates for each of the last seven years, praised the legacy he leaves behind.
"When you have a guy like London [Fletcher] that's played to win and basically showed you how to be a pro, you want to go out there and give it your all," Moss explained. "I think everybody went out there with a full heart.
"We will always remember London for being a standup guy and being a beast for 16 years. I don't know how he did it for 16 years. He's going to be someone you just can't replace."
It seems like only yesterday that the team raised eyebrows by signing free agent Fletcher away from the Buffalo Bills. Some skeptics wondered why the front office fished for the undersized, 31-year-old over-achiever.
But the logic was sound: why not bring in a proven Super Bowl champion, one who could quarterback the NFL's second-ranked defense?
Fast-forward seven seasons, four Pro Bowls, one NFL tackle title, 112 games, 11.5 sacks, 12 interceptions and countless goal-line stops, to find one of the most consistent performers ever in sports.
And the odds were always against him.
Hailing from the tough streets of Cleveland, Fletcher was an undrafted free agent from Division-III John Carroll University. His clock was ticking since the beginning.
"Sixteen years ago, I came into the league as a long-shot. But based on God's plan, I was a sure-shot," he said. "People didn't know what was inside of me, what He put inside of me, or what I was playing for.
"It was more for my family. I was trying to put them in a better situation."
And he did, always answering the bell to play 215 consecutive games at the highest standard. According to NFL stats, he registered 1,789 tackles (1,194 solo), 39 sacks, 42 turnovers and 73 passes defensed in sixteen seasons.
If they had won the game, teammates planned to carry Fletcher off the field in celebration. But even as his teammates filtered into the tunnel to lament another loss, Fletcher got a tribute from the fans befitting the time of career he had.
"At the end the reception that I got … not only today, but just throughout the week," he said, shaking his head in admiration. "I've seen people all over the DMV area, people bought me lunch and all kinds of stuff over at Jackson's in Reston, VA. I'll give them a shout-out. They picked up my tab."
He concluded: "Everybody has been so receptive and that was the reason I'm glad I decided to announce that this was going to be my last season.
"Just really for the fans."