London Fletcher waited in the hallway and hooked his hands into the collar of his shoulder pads.
He assumed a distant expression and listened to Darryl Tapp lead a prayer for health.
Light from outside the visitors’ tunnel at MetLife stadium flooded the right side of the linebacker’s 38-year old face, pointing out the spots where gray stubble pokes through if Fletcher doesn’t shave.
Rain drops seeped through the fissures in the metal ceiling and fell next to cleats inscribed with No. 59, “Iron Man,” and “256.” After the Giants beat the Redskins, Fletcher would sign each cleat and entrust them to teammates.
Brian Orakpo had one packed in his overnight bag. DeAngelo Hall made plans to showcase one above the bar in his home.
Linebackers trickled into the group wearing gold pants and white jerseys. The praying stopped, and the captain began his performance.
“I love each and every one of y’all,” Fletcher said. “This is my group right here.”
Fletcher talked slowly, building his lather 43 minutes before scheduled kickoff Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
The velocity and volume of his words increased.
His neck lunged and snapped. His eyes protruded above the black paint on his cheeks. Veins traveled from his temples along his skull.
“Play with fire! Play with focus! Play with intensity! Play with passion! Go out!” Fletcher paused. “And be dominant: the most dominant, physical, focused group on the field.
“Like I say to you every week: Linebackers set the tone!”
Tapp smiled, exposing the gap in his front teeth.
“Linebackers set the tempo!”
The unit emitted a low “Yeahhhhhhh.”
“LBs on three. One! Two! THREE!”
Fletcher broke the huddle, lowered his helmet onto his head and walked behind the young men.
Ten minutes earlier the only active linebacker from the draft class of 1998, the one who wasn’t even drafted, walked onto the field alone.
Wearing a white, long sleeve shirt on his chest and a Redskins toboggan over his head, Fletcher trotted on the artificial turf and greeted New York defensive coordinator Perry Fewell with a hug. Fewell directed the Bills defense in 2006, Fletcher’s last season in Buffalo.
That was the year Fletcher paced Buffalo with 101 tackles, the year he picked off Brett Favre and ran 17 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. After the Giants game, Fletcher would list Favre, who notched 54 more consecutive games than the linebacker, as a competitor he appreciated.
After parting with Fewell, the linebacker took a knee in the end zone, laced up his commemorative cleats and jogged a lap around the field before retreating to the locker room.
Fletcher had three solo tackles and assisted four others, bringing his season total to 111 tackles, a total he’s reached or exceeded for 14 straight seasons.
After the game he exchanged pleasantries with the Giants and receded into the stadium. He stood in full uniform save a helmet and fielded questions about the final game of his 16-year career.
After seven years with Washington, five with Buffalo and four with St. Louis, Fletcher felt his legacy was secure.
“To play 16 years and be able to accomplish what I’ve been able to accomplish, I feel good about that,” he said.
“It’s been a long time. Time kind of flew by.”
Fletcher said he’ll explore his options in broadcasting. He’s looking forward to a time when he can enjoy a vacation without football consuming his thoughts. He said he wants to spend time with his children.
He talked about the July grass and how it will make him feel. He talked about Favre (299 straight regular seasons games), Jim Marshall (282 straight regular season games), Ronde Barber (215 consecutive starts) and Derrick Brooks (208 consecutive starts).
Fletcher said he’ll tell the story of how he ended his career in New York the same year it hosted Super Bowl XLVIII.
In the pregame huddle he told the linebackers to make that game their Super Bowl. Fletcher won a championship with St. Louis. His preparation was notorious. He treated every test like a Lombardi trophy was at stake.
Lastly, Fletcher spoke about a moment he’d remember from his final week of practice.
B.J. Blanchard, a tenured executive assistant and maternal presence at Redskins Park, stopped the linebacker to tell him he’d be missed as much off the field as on it.
“When she said that, that kind of let me know that I did what I set out to do,” Fletcher said.
“You can play this game and do some things on the field, but it’s really about impacting lives and impacting people, leaving a legacy, leaving your mark.”
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