Fresh off of his recent Super Bowl victory two weeks ago, a familiar face made a pit stop to the Mullins Center on Tuesday night to pay his alma mater a visit.
Victor Cruz, the New York Giants sensation and former Massachusetts football star, sat courtside as he watched the men’s basketball team defeat Xavier, 80-73, to move into a tie for third place in the Atlantic 10.
Cheers filled the arena in response to any sighting of him. The occasional, elongated “Cruz” chant let out by UMass faithful and a collective media storm swept over him as he made his way through crowds for the majority of the game.
He even had a chance to judge a salsa-dancing competition at halftime in which three students received the opportunity to show their moves at midcourt. The dance has been much publicized recently and a trademark of Cruz’s, who made it popular this season when he made it his signature touchdown celebration.
“It’s definitely been surreal, it’s definitely just been a whirlwind, and I’m just soaking in all of the moments and all the times I get to enjoy it,” said Cruz of the aftermath of the Super Bowl win.
Even through all of the emotions of the Super Bowl win, Cruz felt at home during his return to the Pioneer Valley, and noted how different it was to see people wearing his No. 80 jersey in the stands and even a blown up fat-head of his face in the student section.
“It’s crazy seeing all of the jerseys and t-shirts,” said Cruz. “It just shows kind of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve done to change the culture around here.”
Although he said he didn’t get to see most of the game, he was also impressed with the play of the basketball team on the court.
“From what I’ve seen, Chaz Williams has done an outstanding job and from what I hear this whole season,” said Cruz. “I hear we’re on the verge of doing some really good things. I’m excited for our basketball team.”
Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette contributed to this report.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.