Flashing grins and sporting his No. 80 New York Giants jersey, Victor Cruz was a popular attraction and the talk of the town in Indianapolis as part of Super Bowl XVLI Media Day, Tuesday.
Cruz, as well as several of his Giants teammates and members of the opposing New England Patriots, gathered at Lucas Oil Stadium – the site of this Sunday’s Super Bowl – where they were greeted by hundreds of reporters as part of arguably the biggest media frenzy in sports.
While the media expectedly hounded players like Tom Brady and Eli Manning, two men who are used to this kind of attention, the day meant something else for Cruz, who has overcome several challenges to be where he is today.
The former University of Massachusetts wide receiver, twice kicked off the team for poor academic standing, has made the most of his last opportunity to shape up and get his life back on track.
After going undrafted in 2010, Cruz signed with the Giants and started seeing regular playing time this season.
He caught 82 passes for a Giants record 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, and he was Manning’s go-to man in the NFC Championship game, where he had 10 receptions and racked up 142 yards to help the Giants reach the Super Bowl.
His play has helped put his hometown of Paterson, N.J. on the map and his signature salsa number on the end zone touchdown dance menu, and he explained on Tuesday how it’s all been possible.
“A lot of hard work, a lot of determination, man,” said Cruz. “Just understanding that whatever options or opportunities come my way, I have to break through and make sure I do what I can to go through those doors that weren’t open for me before.”
While much of the talk at his podium centered on his rags-to-riches story, Cruz was also all business as he prepares for Sunday’s big game against the Patriots.
Cruz was all smiles after Deion Sanders, a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer and current analyst for the NFL Network, asked him if he smiles when he looks at tape of the Patriots’ secondary, one that ranked 31st in the league in passing defense this season.
“A little bit. Just naturally when you see one of their defensive backs is a wide receiver and he’s going to be potentially covering you, you automatically just get excited,” Cruz said in reference to Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who has seen regular playing time in the secondary this season.
“You want to do your best to kind of exploit that, so obviously as a receiver and as a competitor in general, when you see a matchup you can exploit, you want to take advantage of it.”
Another matchup Cruz will try and come out on top of will be one with one of his former teammates.
James Ihedigbo, another UMass alum, will start this Sunday at safety for the Patriots. Cruz talked last week about how special it is for them to be going up against one another given where they came from.
“It was a tremendous ride,” Cruz said of his time at UMass. “We understand how much of a small school it is and how little guys get an opportunity to come out of that school.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.