The New York Giants are reporting to training camp at the University of Albany next Thursday, but Victor Cruz has been enjoying his time off before he kicks off another season. Cruz released his memoir “Out of the Blue” this week chronicling his unexpected rise to professional football fame. No.80 emerged as Eli Manning’s favorite target last season while pulling down 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Paterson, New Jersey native feels blessed to be where he currently is and looks to build off his stellar 2011 season.
Victor Cruz joined WFAN in New York with Mike Francesa to discuss his 99-yard touchdown against the New York Jets last season, the origin of his salsa dance celebration, his life changing over the past season, the moment when he knew he had arrived, and the most influential person during his time in college.
Take me through the 99-yard play that changed a lot of lives in the Giants vs. Jets game last season?
“Initially it was one of our favorite third down calls. Just a simple inside-and-out route that we like to run. Eli [Manning] hit me on a dime and we had the first down and I looked up and I had some wiggle room and got a chance to make the man miss and I was going up the sideline and Eric Smith missed my legs. I kind of gave him a nice little hurdle and took it the rest of the way for a touchdown then and the feeling I got was just unreal, especially with all the hype that was surrounding the game and all the talk that was going into the game.”
Where did the salsa dance come from?
“Well my grandmother was the one who taught me how to do the dance and I remember my coach, Coach Sullivan, who was our quarterback’s coach at the time, when I was getting my first start against Philadelphia he was like man you gotta do something to represent your culture and your ethnicity and all Puerto Ricans and Latin people all over. He’s like you gotta dance in the end zone. At first I was like coach I don’t know if I am going to dance in the end zone. [Mike Francesa: So a coach told you do it?] Yeah. We always had conversations like that and he was like man you gotta do it. I told him yeah to get him out of my face and we could continue practice and then right before the game he looked at me at that point and was like you gotta do it. I was like alright coach. Low and behold early in the game I catch a pass and I am going down the sideline and I am about at the 5-yard line and in my head I am like man I gotta do this dance now. I put the ball down and I just started dancing. I got really into it once I started doing it and it kind of took a life of its own after that.”
How has your life changed since last season?
“Oh it’s changed a ton man. I can’t go to the same mall I use to without getting swarmed and stuff by people. I am enjoying it. It’s fun. I am getting to do stuff I only dreamed of like commercials and photo shoots and there’s going to be some fun stuff coming out when the season starts. I enjoy it all. It’s a blessing to be here because my story and the way that I came up it wasn’t even guaranteed for me to be sitting here with you today. I just take everything in stride and just have fun. It’s a blessing man. It really is.”
When was the first time last year that you felt you had arrived?
“I think it was the Philly game. It was the first game of the season when I played against the Redskins and I dropped a pass and it was the worst thing. I felt the worst in the world because I finally got in the game and I finally got into the regular season. First play of the game I run an out route and I dropped a ball and then I didn’t get an opportunity again until some guys got hurt and Week 3 came and I was getting my first start. I had a great game and I felt like I had arrived. I arrived. I made it. First regular season game that I really made my mark and I really felt like I arrived in that game.”
Was there one person along your journey that really had a big impact on you?
“It was a guy by the name of Coach [Paterson Catholic Coach Benjie] Wimberly. He was my high school football coach. He was just talking to me man. He was like of all the guys I coached and all the guys that went to different schools like Notre Dame, like Florida and stuff like that. He was like you probably have the most talent. You have the most charisma and the most confidence in you to do this and I know you can do this, so go in there and focus on what you really have to do because I believe in you and all of our other coaches and family believes in you, but most importantly you have to believe in you. I think he was like a second father to me and still is. He was very influential in my life when I was going through the phases of going in and out of school.”