EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** In 1995, Michael Jordan made the number 45 synonymous with the phrase, "I'm back."
Today, Victor Cruz made no such declaration, but celebrated his return to the football field by wearing a Chicago Bulls No. 45 Jordan jersey when he reported for the Giants' first day of training camp.
"I walked in the closet and it was just kind of glowing," Cruz said. "I got up a little early and I don't know if it was just the sun from the window or just the overall glow of the red jersey, but I just grabbed it and put it on and felt like it was a little symbolism for today.
"The return was definitely on my mind. When Jordan came back wearing the four-five, he wasn't playing with people, so that is kind of the symbolism."
After leading the Bulls to three NBA championships, Jordan announced his retirement on Oct. 6, 1993. He played a season for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, before announcing his return in the famous two-word press release on March 18, 1993. Because his famed No. 23 had been retired in his absence, Jordan wore No. 45, his number with the Barons. He went on to win three more titles with the Bulls.
Unlike Jordan, Cruz did not make a voluntary departure from the game he loves to play. Last Oct. 19, he tore his right patellar tendon in a game in Philadelphia. After undergoing surgery, he began a grueling and methodical rehabilitation. Today, he passed the Giants' conditioning test. When the team practices for the first time tomorrow, Cruz hopes to participate in team drills for the first time since he went down in Lincoln Financial Field.
"This was an important day," Cruz said. "A, because I just wanted to get here, get back in front of my teammates, get back in front of the coaching staff and talk to them and show them the work I have been putting in. Tomorrow is obviously another obstacle in getting out there on the field, doing some routes and being a part of the team again, so I am excited, man. I have been counting down this time 10 months ago and I'm excited to get back out there."
Cruz is not certain how much the team's medical staff will let him do in the early camp practices.
Giants players take selfies as they arrive at 2015 Training Camp
"I expect to be with the team at some point, probably getting some reps," Cruz said. "I haven't talked to the training staff about how we are going about the periods. We talked about my workload and what they want me to do workload-wise, but nothing as far as what periods I will be in and what periods I won't (be in)."
"I'm sure we will have to limit and build him up, but he'll be out there," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Asked later about Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr., who missed spring drills with a hamstring injury, Coughlin said, "I hope they can practice all the time. I'm sure there may be some time when they have to have some recognition in terms of number of snaps, but that's probably going to be the way it goes, anyway. We'll monitor all the players under the existing system that we have and try to get a gauge on exactly where they should be for each style of practice that we present."
No matter how much he's permitted to do, Cruz will enjoy a sense of satisfaction, because he admits that last fall he wasn't sure he could progress this far this fast.
"That was me just trying to do it one day at a time, getting better one day at a time, crossing those small hurdles that I needed to cross in order to get to where I am today," he said. "But if you told me nine months from that time that I'd be playing and practicing and feeling really good about myself, I probably wouldn't (have) believed you. But I knew the work that I was putting in, I knew I would get to a point where I would get to this point. I just didn't know when at that time."
That time is now. And just like Michael Jordan, Cruz is ready to seize the moment.
"Hopefully, I am at 100 percent by (opening night in Dallas on Sept. 13)," Cruz said. "That is the goal. But I am at 93 right now. I feel good.
"I do understand that I have to take it slow and the training staff understands that as well. Even if I went to them and was like, 'I feel 100 percent and want to go out there and play and do every series.' They want me to take it slow and again I am still not - there is a difference between being in shape and then football shape, so I still have to kind of develop that a little bit. That takes a little bit of time, one week or two. So we will see how it goes. But I definitely understand that I want to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one practice at a time."
*Coughlin said tackle Will Beatty (torn pectoral muscle) and wide receiver Ben Edwards (hamstring) will begin camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Photos from the Giants 2015 Conditioning test from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center