Victor Cruz recounts meeting Pintos

Updated: December 19, 2012, 6:40 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz hopes that meeting with the family of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Connecticut school shooting has helped it cope with the tragedy.

The New York Giants' receiver somberly recounted Wednesday his hourlong visit with Jack Pinto's family a day earlier, and says he was most affected when asked about the parents' decision to bury their son in his No. 80 jersey.

"You never go through some circumstances like this," said Cruz, whose eyes appeared watery when talking about the difficult experience. "This was definitely the toughest by far."

Pinto's family said Cruz was its son's favorite player. Pinto was one of 20 first-graders who, along with six adults, lost their lives Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"It leaves you kind of blank," Cruz said of Pinto wearing his jersey. "But I'm definitely honored by it. I'm definitely humbled by it, and it was definitely unfortunate but humbling experience for me."

Cruz learned that Pinto was a fan when word spread on Twitter and got back to him. He wrote Pinto's name on his cleats and gloves before the Giants' 34-0 loss Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons.

Cruz presented Pinto's brother, Ben, with the cleats and gloves.

"The older brother, he was still pretty emotional," Cruz said. "The family was outside and they were still pretty emotional, crying and stuff like that. I saw how affected they were by just my presence alone.

"There were instances where we would take some time and talk football, or talk just life in general, where you would just talk about normal things back and forth. But those instances lasted about a couple seconds before you could revert back to saying something about Jack or something about the family or something about the nearby family that also suffered a loss and things like that. It was tough."

Cruz drove to Newtown, Conn., with his girlfriend, Elaina, and their daughter, Kennedy.

Cruz spent a little more than an hour talking to the Pinto family and playing some video games with kids from the local Pop Warner team that visited. He signed items for family members and the kids, many of them wearing his No. 80 jersey.

"We got to smile a little bit, which was good for them," Cruz said. "And it was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in the time where it can be really negative. So it was a good time. They're a great family and they're really united right now at this time, and it was good to see.

"When you hear a kid that is such a big fan of you and such a big fan of the Giants and the team, and I was his favorite player, I felt like it was only right that I pay my respects to him and be as comforting to that family as much as I can."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who said the team was deeply affected by the tragedy, immediately sought out Cruz on Wednesday morning to thank the receiver at practice.

"Incredibly proud of what (Cruz has) done," Coughlin said. "That family will remember that all their days. Hopefully, at least some of their grief may temporarily be spent in being able to embrace Victor Cruz. The fact that he went and did that speaks volumes about what he has in him, inside."

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who will play against the Giants on Sunday, also was touched by Cruz's gesture.

"You've got to be able to put yourself in that family's situation to understand at least what they're going through," Rice said. "That's what it's about. You know, that's something that ... you do it from the heart. You do it from within. What he did was amazing because, honestly, I was affected by that more than I've ever been affected before."

Cruz said he never thought he ever would be able to be in a position to help a grieving family with any type of relief like that.

"I never thought that I'd be a person a family would want to come to their house and to be uplifting and to be someone that can put a smile on their face, on any family's face during a rough time," he said. "So it was a good feeling to go in there and kind of, just change the mood a little bit if I could for that short (time) that I was there."

Cruz has been thinking about his own life and his family a lot more since last week's tragedy.

"(I've thought about) how short life can be, how much you have to cherish every moment, how much you have to cherish every opportunity," Cruz said. "Every chance you get with your family, never take anything for granted because just a day at school can change all that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
Follow him on Twitter »  Ohm's chat archive »

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