When Antonio Cromartie stepped into the starting lineup in Week 10 of the 2007 season, the comfort level of opposing quarterbacks quickly changed as the NFL was taken hold by Cromartie’s superior athleticism.
Cromartie, the Chargers’ 2006 first-round draft choice out of Florida State, led the NFL with 10 interceptions, becoming only the second player in team history to do so, joining Charlie McNeil (1961). Cromartie became an All-Pro; he garnered several votes as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and he became the first Chargers cornerback to make the Pro Bowl since Gill Byrd in 1993. Although Cromartie started just six games, his impact was profound. He recorded at least one interception in each of the last three games and all 10 of his interceptions came in the team’s last nine contests.
Cromartie’s coming out party took place in a span of three weeks in late October and early November. On Oct. 28 against Houston, Cromartie scored two touchdowns, recovering an errant punt snap in the end zone and returning an interception 70 yards for a score. They were his first-career NFL TDs. A week later in Minnesota, Cromartie set an NFL record that will never be broken when he returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. The following week, Cromartie turned in his crown-jewel performance of the season in front of a national-television audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football when he racked up a career-high three picks against Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, the reigning Super Bowl MVP. Cromartie’s three picks off Manning, which all took place in the first half, included a one-handed leaping interception that made just about everyone’s highlight reel.
Including the Indianapolis game, Cromartie had three multi-pick games during the season, one shy of the NFL single-season record. Cromartie added two more picks in the postseason and was one of only seven players to intercept multiple passes in the playoffs. He intercepted Manning once again in the Chargers-Colts Jan. 13 Divisional Playoff Game at the RCA Dome and added another a week later against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
Antonio left Florida State after playing just two seasons in Tallahassee. His collegiate career started with great promise as he was one of only a handful of true freshmen to letter in 2003. He delivered another solid season in 2004, earning first-team All-ACC honors despite starting only one game. The reason Cromartie left school early was because in 2005, while preparing for his junior season during a voluntary workout, he injured his knee while defending a pass in a one-on-one drill. The injury required surgery, forcing him to sit out the entire season. After the injury, Antonio worked diligently in his rehabilitation and exceeded the medical timetable that the doctors and trainers had set for him.
Antonio was planning to return to FloridaState for the 2006 season, but days before his team played in the 2006 Orange Bowl, he got a phone call from his mom, Cassandra, informing him that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. With his mom facing a life-threatening illness, and a young son at home, Cromartie decided it was best for his family if he were to leave Florida State and make himself available for the 2006 NFL Draft. The Chargers are glad that he did and they demonstrated it by making him the 19th pick in the first round.
Antonio grew up in Tallahassee so it was only natural that he enrolled with the hometown Seminoles. Interestingly, he had never been to a game at FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium until he was recruited by FloridaState.
As a way of giving back to the community in which he was raised, Cromartie recently started The Bam Bam 13 Foundation in Tallahassee. The goal of the nonprofit foundation is to help youth reach their dreams by offering unique programs, resources and opportunities. In April, Cromartie hosted a Celebrity Weekend, which included a youth football camp at his alma mater, LincolnHigh School. The camp was attended by several of Cromartie’s Chargers’ teammates, including Marcus McNeill and Cletis Gordon.
Cromartie comes from a very athletically gifted family. He is the cousin of former Major League outfielder Warren Cromartie, a career .281 hitter who played 11 seasons with the Montreal Expos and Kansas City Royals. Another cousin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie recently finished his college career at Tennessee State University and is expected to be among the first cornerbacks selected in the 2008 NFL Draft. Antonio also is often compared to another very talented athlete, former FloridaState and NFL cornerback and return specialist, Deion Prime Time Sanders. The two are close friends and speak frequently throughout the year.
While Antonio’s superior speed and athleticism have tricked a few people into thinking that he could fly, he had the chance to take flight with some of the nation’s best in March when he received a special invitation to fly in an FA-18 Hornet with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels from their base in El Centro, California. Cromartie stayed awake during the entire 45-minute flight, which saw his FA-18 exceed speeds of 800 mph while the gravitational pull neared 6 Gs.
Cromartie has two sons, Alonzo and Jaden. He is engaged to Rhonda Patterson and the couple plans to wed in June in Atlanta.