Cruz can't wait to see Jets again
Giants wideout made his name against Gang Green, and now he's an NFL star
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Hours after Victor Cruz saved the New York Giants' season with a 99-yard touchdown catch-and-run that also sank the New York Jets' season, the playmaking receiver celebrated with a Christmas Eve dinner at Abe & Arthur's.
It was there, in the trendy and crowded Meatpacking District restaurant, where a Jets cornerback was finally able to chase down Cruz and hold him still for a few minutes.
Darrelle Revis had come over to share some words with Cruz, but this time there was no trash-talking. Earlier in the week, Cruz and the Giants' receivers had a little back-and-forth with the Jets' cornerbacks through the media, resulting in Revis' saying, "I don't even know who this guy [Cruz] is, really."
"He pulled me over and said, 'Man, you are a good player,'" Cruz recalled. "'Everybody knows what your name is now. So you don't have to worry about that.'"
If there is one team in the NFL that needs no introduction to Cruz, it is the Jets. Cruz's star basically was born on Rex Ryan's watch. And on Saturday, Cruz and the Giants will be reunited with the Jets once again.
That might not be a good thing for Ryan, since Cruz exploded onto the NFL scene in 2010 when the undrafted rookie receiver torched the Jets for six catches, 145 yards and three touchdowns in a nationally televised preseason game -- a performance that even caught LeBron James' attention.
"In my mental Rolodex of memories, they definitely sit high up there," Cruz said of the Jets. "And always will."
Of the 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns he had last season, Cruz said none -- not even his touchdown in the Super Bowl against New England, or his two touchdowns in his breakout game against Philadelphia last year -- were bigger than the 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown he made against the Jets.
"It has got to be No. 1," Cruz said. "To do it against the Jets, at home for a chance to go to the playoffs and keep yourself in the hunt in front of your friends and family at Giants Stadium ... it was the best feeling in the world."
It was also a satisfying feeling to let the Jets' cornerbacks know exactly who he was. Cruz was miffed that Revis and Antonio Cromartie acted like he was an unknown in the days leading up to that game, and even on the field.
"I think it was Week 15 -- up to that point, I was doing some really good things and I felt like I had done enough to at least be on the radar of some teams," Cruz said. "And for them to come out and say that they didn't know who I was, it was a little disappointing.
"I just used it as fuel and motivation," he added.
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Once the game started, Cromartie was talking smack to Cruz and wouldn't stop talking.
"It was nothing disrespectful," said Cruz, who also details his encounter with the Jets' secondary in his book, "Victor Cruz: Out of the Blue." "Just, 'You are not going to score on this play. You are not going to catch this ball. Like, who are you?'"
Cruz kept quiet and responded with a 15-second play that turned a 7-3 second-quarter deficit into a 10-7 lead at halftime. The Giants eventually would pull away for a 29-14 win, with Cruz's 99-yard play becoming perhaps the biggest highlight of their Super Bowl season.
The play certainly was the most memorable highlight of Cruz's storybook season, which included Madonna paying tribute to him by doing her own imitation of his salsa touchdown dance at a Super Bowl news conference. The receiver also made an appearance at the Grammys and did a book tour this offseason.
It has been a whirlwind year for Cruz, who somehow has managed to remain as humble as he was when he was an anonymous kid working at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., in a fashion store. These days, jerseys and Nike T-shirts are sold with Cruz's name on them at that mall.
Cruz often thinks about how his life has taken a charmed turn, and even how lucky he was on the night when gunshots were fired at his birthday celebration at Juliet Supper Club in Manhattan. Cruz and some teammates had to duck and fortunately were not injured by the shots, which injured two others and killed one person that night.
"I try to forget that night as much as possible, but I definitely think about it," Cruz said. "Every now and then, I think about it and how easily one of those bullets could have ricocheted off a wall and hit any one of us in my vicinity.
"It is definitely something I look at as a life lesson," he continued.
Cruz doesn't know what life has in store for him this season, but he knows some people expect him to be a one-hit wonder. It is a big season for Cruz, who is in the final year of his current contract. And so far, he and Eli Manning look like they haven't skipped a beat in training camp.
"The way Victor practices, everything is full speed," Manning said. "That's why he's had great success. He's competitive every day at practice just trying to continue to learn and working on the outside receiver [position] as well as the slot."
With Hakeem Nicks nursing a surgically repaired toe, Cruz has taken No. 1 receiver reps and has only solidified his chemistry with Manning further.
"He is understanding my body language and he knows where I am going to be sometimes before I even read the coverage," Cruz said. "There are certain times where he calls a play and we kind of look at each other and we know exactly where we are going to be depending on the coverage."
"And once I make my move, the ball is kind of right there waiting for me," Cruz added. "That nice chemistry is kind of flowing pretty well right now."
Fortunately for Ryan and Revis, the Jets will have to see that flow for only a quarter or so on Saturday, maybe even less.
Perhaps Revis will remind Cruz about one other thing he told the receiver on that Christmas Eve in the city.
"Just keep getting better and keep doing what you're doing," Revis said that night, according to Cruz. "And try not to keep beating our Jets like that."
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