A New York Giants win this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI could make Victor Cruz’s story a Hollywood script.
Cruz, a wide receiver out of UMass (University of Massachusetts), watched and listened over three days as 255 names including 27 wide receivers had their names called out – Cruz would not be one of them. He would however congratulate his UMass teammate and offensive tackle Vladimir Ducasse who was selected by the New York Jets in the second round with the 61st pick.
The Giants signed Cruz as an undrafted free agent in the off-season and positioned him on a depth chart behind Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, Rames Barden and Domenik Hixon.
I remember watching Cruz in a 2010 preseason game against the Jets – a game that he had everyone asking, “who is this guy?” or as Jets head coach Rex Ryan said to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin after the game, “I don’t know who number three is but holy shit.”
During that exhibition match, NBA superstar LeBron James was another who had his eyes on the game and took note of the rookies performance. James tweeted, “Victor Cruz going nuts on the Jets tonight on #MNF. Undrafted rookie from UMass. He’s gonna have a job this year for sure.”
Interestingly, Jets assistant Brian Smith spent time at UMass on the coaching staff including a stint as receivers coach in ’05-’06. Smith had to confirm to Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine that Cruz wasn’t an option quarterback, (a QB that can also run the ball if no one is open) but in fact a wide receiver because Pettine had no idea who he has.
Cruz’s awesome performances got him a spot of the 53-man Giants regular season roster however after just three games, Cruz was placed on injury reserve because of a hamstring injury.
Due to free agency and injuries, the second year pro gained field time including playing in 16 regular season-games this season (three in 2010) and thrived on the big stage.
Cruz pulled in nine TDs in the regular season however he is yet to record a score in the playoffs. In conference championship game against San Francisco, Cruz was Eli Manning’s favourite target, large because Hakeem Nicks was on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.
It has been a breakout season for Cruz and a 100 plus yardage effort with a first post-season TD is on the cards. Against the Patriots during their matchup in the regular season in Foxborough, the 25-year old was the Giants leading receiver with six catches and 91 yards but no TD.
What I like about Cruz is the story of being undrafted, of being undervalued and scraping and clawing to make an NFL roster. That was on the start.
Cruz had to then show he had the skills that the Giants scouts eventually saw in him. He did that – just watch highlights of his game against the Jets that I mentioned above. Smith didn’t even think he’d make it in the NFL.
During the NFL lockout, Cruz was fortunate enough to get a call from Giants quarterback and 2007 Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Initially taken back that Manning was calling him, Cruz answered and was invited to work with the QB – this would be time highly treasured by the young wide out who continually picked Manning’s brain.
This weekend, Manning and Cruz will put what they learned from each other on the Hoboken High School football field into practice in the biggest NFL match of the season.
This Sunday, one line you won’t hear come out of the mouth of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is, “who is this Cruz guy?”