From Amherst to Indy: Cruz, Ihedigbo square off in Super Bowl

By Herb Scribner

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It was New England vs. New York, it was the Patriots vs. the Giants, it was a “revenge game” – it was everything.

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But unlike several other Super Bowls in the past, last night’s epic clash between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants was also a battle between two former students of the University of Massachusetts.

Among the legacy and the historical backdrop of Super Bowl XLVI, two UMass alums, Victor Cruz and James Ihedigbo, donned their respective jerseys and battled it out for national supremacy.

Cruz – the winner of the battle, who now wears that illustrious and heavily sought-after Super Bowl ring – nabbed a touchdown last night, in a game that came down to the final seconds. Though he was bottled for most of the game, Cruz finished with four receptions for 25 yards, his longest an eight-yard catch.

But Ihedigbo did not fare as well as Cruz. He went unnoticed throughout much of the game, only contributing with two tackles on a defensive side that held the Giants below 20 points for the majority of the game.

For Cruz, the Super Bowl was the culmination of a tumultuous path that began at UMass in 2005. He made his first appearance in a maroon and white jersey in 2007.

It was on Nov. 10, 2007, that Cruz caught his first ball as a Minuteman – a 26-yard grab against long-standing rival New Hampshire.

It would not be his last catch.

Like a receiver, Cruz caught the attention of many in the following season, receiving 71 catches for 1064 yards, becoming the sixth Minuteman to catch 1,000 yards in a single season.

Breaking records did not stop in college. In his second season as a Giant, Cruz earned the franchise record for single-season receiving yards with 1,536 yards on 82 catches.

But during Cruz’s two redshirt years, there was Ihedigbo, a strong safety with exceptional blitzing ability and power. His skills brought the team to Ihedigbo’s other national title game – an NCAA title match against Appalachian State. Like last night’s Super Bowl, the battle and loss by the Minutemen inspired heavy demonstrations from students across campus.

Ihedigbo moved on from collegiate football to the New York Jets – which, prior to this season, shared Giants Stadium with the Giants. Alongside recent draftee and former Minuteman Vladimir Ducasse, Ihedigbo competed as a member of the Patriots’ division rival. But come summer, Ihedigbo traded sides and the Northampton native returned home to Massachusetts.

Though both attended UMass and acted as teammates, Ihedigbo and Cruz ended up on opposite sides of the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium last night. Their paths were not at all the same, but both ended up in Indianapolis.

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Scribner.