Veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play in his 150th NFL game on Monday night:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He has played 149 games, including two Super Bowls, for four teams across 10 NFL seasons, yet in the hours and minutes before that first whistle blows, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is as anxious as an untested rookie.
"Definitely, definitely, 10 years in and I still get butterflies," DRC said this week. "I know the game a lot more, understand it, but still until that first kickoff or the first ball thrown at me, it's kind of like a little nervousness."
The feeling will be exacerbated this week as it was before the Giants' opener in Dallas, because the Giants are once again playing at night. They host the Detroit Lions in their home opener on Monday night.
"I am the type of guy that I want to get in there, play, and get it over with," he said. "When you're sitting around, a lot of things are going through your mind."
That includes thoughts about how much Rodgers-Cromartie still enjoys playing, how fortunate he is to still do what he loves, and how he relishes the rapport with his younger teammates, particularly those in the defensive backs room.
"The older you get, the more blessed you become," Cromartie said. "You don't stick around this league for nine, 10, 11 years, so I take every day as if it's my last. I just go out there and have fun and keep trying to keep it young. You got a good group of guys, and they keep me young out there."
At 31, Rodgers-Cromartie is the Giants' oldest defensive back by three years. He's nine years older than fellow cornerback Eli Apple.
"We kind of make fun of him, because he is the oldest guy in the room," Apple said. "He has a lot of old tendencies. He is just different, because he is older. We respect him, because he has so much wisdom. In the meetings, he makes a lot of things light, but he also knows when things get serious and when to be serious. He is always checking us and making sure that we are always on top of our game."
That's exactly where Rodgers-Cromartie was in 2016. He was named second-team All-Pro after tying his career-high with six interceptions. DRC twice had two picks in a game, including the season finale in Washington, which earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award.
"It's a blessing," said All-Pro safety Landon Collins. "You don't see many guys playing and being able to run that way and be able to ball the way he is still balling at the age he is and having 10 years in."
"It meant a lot," Rodgers-Cromartie said of the honors. "We go out there each week and we put it on the line and to be recognized for it, man, it's just like your hard work didn't go unnoticed and that somebody took notice to it."
The accolades particularly gratified DRC because for the first time in his career he lined up more often in the slot than he did at corner, which enabled the Giants to deploy him with Janoris Jenkins (also a second-team All-Pro) and Apple (the Giants' first-round draft choice last year).
"I would say it came as a surprise," DRC said of his 2016 season. "Anytime you're in a new role, you tend to have learning curves. They did a good job of teaching me the system and I caught on real fast. I grew a love for just being in there, so it was definitely a surprise. But if I get it down in my head, I can go out there and do some things. The older I get, my skill set has not diminished much. It's still at a high level, and that's why I try to go out there and keep it young."
What was the biggest adjustment playing inside after so many years out on the island?
"Being patient and my eyes," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "When you are on the outside, you tend to see a lot more things, but when you are in that slot, it comes so much faster and those guys are so much quicker. You have to be patient and have great eye discipline."
Rodgers-Cromartie continued to demonstrate his versatility in his 10th pro training camp, when he lined up at safety during some drills – just in case he was needed there in an emergency.
"We went into some games last year with only three safeties," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "We need to have somebody to go who can do that, and that has been DRC. But it's just an emergency thing. Hopefully, we won't have to do it."
If they do, DRC won't complain. Although he entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008, Rodgers-Cromartie didn't expect to stay in the NFL for a decade, in part because he was from Tennessee State.
"Coming from a small school, I didn't think I would be in the league for long," he said. "I didn't think I would play over 5-6 years - just being realistic. But, man, it seems like year after year I just keep coming back."
Primarily because he wants to win a Super Bowl. Rodgers-Cromartie started Super Bowl XLIII for the Cardinals and XLVIII for the Broncos, losing both.
This season is his fourth with the Giants, DRC's longest stint with one team. He played three seasons for Arizona, two with Philadelphia and one with Denver before joining the Giants as a free agent in 2014.
"I have been shipped around a little bit, so any time you've been somewhere for a long time, you're very appreciative because this game is not an everyday thing," he said. "You are not always going to be around. To stay somewhere for a lengthy period of time is a blessing. You don't take that lightly."
Which is why Rodgers-Cromartie will have butterflies Monday night when he plays his 150th NFL game.
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