During his blur of a rookie season as a cornerback with the Arizona Cardinals, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has had just about everything thrown his way covered. But with another surprising win Sunday, even Rodgers-Cromartie wouldn't be able to run fast enough, leap high enough or hit hard enough to handle this once incomprehensible possibility: playing in the Super Bowl in his back yard. "They'd have to give me a whole side of the field," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "My whole family is still down in the Bradenton-St. Pete area, and if I can get to the Super Bowl and have them come to the game, that would really be something."
Rodgers-Cromartie, 22, has done his part, earning a starting cornerback spot in Week 9 and having a sudden impact, defending passes, making interceptions (including a 99-yard return) and recovering fumbles. In their two playoff wins, he has shut down, and nearly shut out, each team's top receiver, Atlanta's Roddy White and Carolina's Steve Smith.
"I've had some great teaching, they've really been zoning in on me at practice and I soak it all in like a sponge," he said. "Everything's coming at me so fast, it's like, sheesh, sometimes I've got to sit down, zone in and realize where I'm at."
Not a bad idea considering his path. Popcorn and a Coke would be good, too.
DRC, as he's known, overcame two early obstacles: a non-functioning kidney that was removed at age 5 (and never replaced) — making it, according to his mom, Melissa Rodgers, "definitely a miracle" he was even able to play a contact sport — and surviving growing up in what Rodgers describes as "the projects of Bradenton."
He moved to the Orlando area to live with his basketball-coaching father, Stan Cromartie, for high school. But he bounced from Edgewater as a freshman to private Lake Highland Prep as a sophomore, then, after losing his scholarship, back to Edgewater, where he barely played as a junior. Discouraged, he moved back home with mom for his senior year, and got to play — and star — at Lakewood Ranch.
College was another issue. His only offer came from I-AA Tennessee State, and only then because Stan was friends with defensive coordinator Rod Reed. But Rodgers-Cromartie persevered again, starring on the field (and the track), earning Senior Bowl MVP honors and putting on dazzling show at the NFL combine, including a 4.29 time for 40 yards and, at 6 feet 2 and 182 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical. He ended up the 16th overall pick of the draft and got a five-year, $15.1-million contract.
Whatever risk the Cardinals may have taken is gone. So is any surprise over his impressive play.
"Not now," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He's been playing pretty good for a while. He's got some good mentors in the secondary like (nine-year veteran) Ralph Brown. He's had three straight games with an interception. As I've said, he's a young guy that's developing. He's very competitive and he wants to be good; those are two things that are very important."
Rodgers-Cromartie — a second cousin to Chargers (and former FSU) defensive back Antonio Cromartie — said he just needed a chance: "I'm not surprising myself. I always knew I could play ball."
True enough, mom said.
"He'd always tell me, 'Mom, I want to play in the NFL,' " Rodgers said. "It was his determination and his faith. He just believed he could get to that level one day. I knew he had it in him, but he's gone above and beyond what I expected his first year. I'm extremely proud. Words can't even describe it."
The family road-tripped to Charlotte, N.C., last weekend and is flying to Phoenix for Sunday's NFC championship. A short drive to Tampa for a Feb. 1 game would be the perfect ending on an amazing year.
"I can't even imagine," Rodgers said. "It would be a blessing and an honor. And we'd probably need the whole stadium."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org