HONOLULU -- Antonio Cromartie sat quietly in the corner, away from the noise and bustle of the AFC locker room.
While he prefers staying away from that kind of action, the speedy San Diego Chargers cornerback always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Washington tight end Chris Cooley couldn't handle a pass by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Cromartie twisted around, caught the ball and returned it 56 yards to the NFC 29 in the second quarter, setting up the AFC's second touchdown.
In the third quarter, Cromartie jostled for position and ripped Jeff Garcia's tipped pass away from St. Louis' Torry Holt and returned it 21 yards.
"Everything I thought about him was true. He's a tremendous athlete who just has a feel around the football," Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning said. "You don't see that kind of size with so much quickness and ability. He's a very gifted athlete with great ball skills."
The low-key Cromartie, who stands 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, took it all in stride. He seemed more excited about the fact he traded autographed helmets with Willis McGahee and Joseph Addai than his performance.
"I just go out and have fun and do what I'm supposed to do," he said.
The Chargers took Cromartie with the 19th pick overall in the 2006 draft after he missed the 2005 season at Florida State because of a torn left knee ligament. He became a starter this season, and punctuated his rise with a three-interception performance against Manning and the Colts in a 23-21 victory.
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis also liked what he saw in his young AFC teammate.
"If you know football, you have to appreciate a talent like that," Lewis said. "Probably one of the most gifted athletes I have ever seen. And he's a great young man, so you really appreciate that."
Cromartie said it wasn't as easy as it appeared. He admittedly was a little out of shape, even though it's only been three weeks since he last played. The Chargers' lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
"I was all out of breath and everything," he said. "When you're sitting at home eating potato chips and Oreo cookies that are double stuffed, that's what you get."
Cromartie said he plays every down like it's his last, even if it's in an event that supposed to be as laid back as the Pro Bowl.
He learned his mother, Cassandra, had breast cancer a few days after the 2006 Orange Bowl. That was one of the main reasons why Cromartie decided to leave Florida State early and enter the NFL draft.
"Life is real precious and you can't take things for granted," he said. "I don't take anything for granted. You're a play away, one situation away, from being out of football."
The cancer is gone and his mother was able to join him in Honolulu. And Cromartie couldn't be happier, even with the $20,000 the losers received in the Pro Bowl.
"It'll cover the hotel charges," he said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press