The reason I watched the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl is possibly on its way out the door. There is discussion that there may never be another Pro Bowl game played ever again. I won’t be upset if the game does go away and is never played again. If the Pro Bowl goes away, my biggest wish is that it would take the NBA, NHL All-Star games with it. The concept of these games aren’t bad, but when it comes down to it, these are merely exhibition games. Major League Baseball’s All-Star game does decide which league gets home field advantage in the World Series so it technically counts, even though I don’t agree with it. There’s something fundamentally wrong to me about guys that play for the Kansas City Royals or the Pittsburgh Pirates could decide who get home field advantage in the World Series. Suffice to say, I am not a fan of All-Star games, and I usually don’t spend my time watching them. This year’s Pro Bowl was the exception.

Yesterday morning as I was thumbing through a local newspaper, I noticed the Pro Bowl rosters, and I knew I had to watch. Even though the Pro Bowl has become little more than a flag football game, it is still football. There has been much talk about the NFL lately being a”gladiator” sport, or a sport that only the “biggest,fastest, strongest” survived. That’s the reason that the game is so popular and watched by millions. On this day however the reason that I wanted to watch the Pro Bowl centered around watching a 5 foot 9 inch linebacker.

The 1999 football season was one of the greatest experiences that I have ever enjoyed as a sports fan. That year, my St. Louis Rams went from rags to riches to win the first ever Super Bowl title in the history of this city. There were so many people who defined this team and what this team was all about. Nobody defined this team more than their middle linebacker London Fletcher.  Here is a  guy that  went to a Division III school (John Carroll) and wasn’t even drafted into the NFL. He was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 1998.  He played well in 98 but it was during training camp before the 1999 season his name really started to generate some buzz. He was really impressing the coaching staff and pushing Lorenzo Styles to become the starter. I went to the first preseason game that year, and from that moment on I was a London Fletcher fan. When you first saw him on the field, he just didn’t look the part. Everyone towered over him, not exactly what a middle linebacker looks like. When play started though, it became pretty easy to see that he was ALWAYS around the football. Fletcher seemed to be in on every tackle. Fletcher did win the starting job during training camp and as they say, the rest is history.

During his first full season as a starter he anchored the Rams 6th ranked defense to help lead them to the franchises only Super Bowl championship. Two years later he anchored another, rebuilt, Rams defense to another top ten ranking and helped lead them back to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the Rams were upset by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl which turned out to be the last game London Fletcher ever played as a Ram. During that offseason, the Rams had a big decision to make. Both London Fletcher and defensive end Leonard Little were set to hit the free agent market. Both were great players that were due big raises  on their next contracts. The Rams brass figured that replacing a middle linebacker would be easier than replacing an elite pass rusher so Little was signed and Fletcher was allowed to walk. He eventually signed that offseason with the Buffalo Bills. One player certainly doesn’t make a team, but I have always felt that letting the heart and soul of the defense walk away played a big role in the demise of the Greatest Show on Turf.

London Fletcher has enjoyed an outstanding career. In addition to his stop in Buffalo, he has spent the last six seasons with the Washington Redskins. Over the past 12 seasons (according to  Fletcher averaged 140 tackles per year. He has 37 sacks  and 23 career interceptions and he was just named to his 4th career Pro Bowl. London Fletcher still remains undecided if he is going to play again next year, or if he is going to ride off into the sunset and call it a career. On Sunday night, I couldn’t help but watch the Pro Bowl considering it might me the last time that this little giant plays professional football.



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