INDIANAPOLIS -- By his own estimation, Victor Cruz is a one-in-10 million success story. He was nobody's darling in 2010, undrafted out of UMass, but he has grown so big, so fast that even Madonna knows his name and his touchdown dance.
All because a man named Chris Pettit followed his gut.
You've never heard of him. The most ardent New York Giants fans don't know Pettit, one of 10 college scouts employed by the team. He covers specific areas -- Virginia to Maine, plus the Big Ten states -- and, like the other scouts, he spends 185 to 200 days a year on the road, looking for talent.
"Our scouts are really the unsung heroes of this whole process," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said this week amid the glitz of Super Bowl XLVI. "They are the lifeline. They unearth these players and bring them to our attention."
Everything about a Super Bowl is big -- big crowds, big parties, big money -- but sometimes it's the little guys who make the game. No one is stopping Pettit or his scouting cohorts on the street for autographs, but they're the foot soldiers who make the army.
Some scouts can go an entire career without uncovering a hidden gem like Cruz, who set a Giants record with 1,536 receiving yards this season. But Pettit found his one-in-10 million shot on a spring day in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He's the unknown who discovered the unknown.
The Giants prefer their scouts not speak with the media, so Pettit will have to remain a silent man of mystery. His work on Cruz hasn't been publicly acknowledged, but people in the organization say he did the grunt work. Here's the story, based on various interviews, of how the Giants found Cruz:
Like many prospects from UMass, Cruz participated in Boston College's pro day, knowing he'd been seen by representatives from every NFL team. Pettit was there, looking. Pettit is relatively new to the business -- he was hired by the Giants in 2005 -- but he has veteran eyes, his colleagues say, and they were transfixed that day on Cruz.
Pettit evidently saw something special. He liked Cruz so much that he did something he usually doesn't do. The next day, he drove to the UMass pro day for a second look. Call it a gut feeling. He watched him again, was impressed again, and got a chance to sit down with Cruz after the workout, getting to know him.
There were questions about Cruz's character because he flunked out of UMass, not once, but twice. It wasn't a legal issue, but the good scouts always want to dig deep, searching for answers.
Once again, Pettit came away with a positive vibe about Cruz, so he made sure he received an invitation to the Giants' local pro day, according to people in the organization. Because Cruz hails from Paterson, N.J., he was eligible to work out at the Giants' facility before the draft.
A local pro day is akin to an "American Idol" audition, a casting call for wannabes and dreamers. You won't find a blue-chipper from a BCS school at a local day, only the small-school prospects looking to catch someone's eye.
Cruz remembers it well.
"There were 20 or 25 of us there, maybe four or five receivers," he said. "I did some good things there. I felt like they were really impressed with what I did. I think that helped me get in the door."
Cruz got in the door, all right. He was invited into the coaches' offices and sat down with receivers coach Sean Ryan. After the meeting, Ryan echoed Pettit's sentiment, convinced there were no concerns about Cruz's character. On the field, his workouts kept getting better and better, with consistent 40 times in the 4.5s.
Pettit and fellow scout Ryan Jones wrote reports on Cruz. The Giants graded him as a priority free agent, so it wasn't like they had a must-have grade on him. But at least they had reports on him; some teams didn't even go that far because Cruz was such an unknown.
A total of 255 players were drafted in 2010, and not one of them was named Victor Cruz. When the draft was over, Reese told his scouts he wanted to add a wide receiver to fill out the depth chart. Pettit recommended Cruz. The Giants were the only team to offer him a contract, so it was a deal.
A sweetheart deal.
Pettit grew up a Giants fan in Huntington, Long Island, a good athlete who played football and lacrosse. His chances of landing a football scholarship were doomed when he wrecked his knee in his junior year, so he went to Maryland and played lacrosse. After two more knee reconstructions, he was done.
Pettit landed a pro-personnel internship with the Giants for three summers, 1998 to 2000. That helped him get in the door, same way Cruz got in a decade later. Pettit spent a year as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, working his way back to the Giants for a full-time gig in scouting.
Five years into the job, Pettit came across Cruz. From there, everything lined up -- his talent, the need, the offensive system, good coaching and, of course, the right man, Eli Manning, at quarterback. It's the rarest of combinations.
"In scouting, it's not a perfect science," Reese said. "I don't even know if it is a science at all. Every now and then, you get lucky with guys like that. Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round. With scouting, you want to get more right than you get wrong. We got lucky with Victor and I'm happy for him."
Lucky? Yeah, probably, but it also took some leg work from an anonymous scout who followed a hunch.