EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The impact Victor Cruz had on the Giants' organization was demonstrated soon after the sensational receiver announced his retirement today when Pat Shurmur – a coach Cruz never played for – opened his daily news conference with a tribute to a player he knew only as an opponent.
"What a great Giant," Shurmur said. "I remember playing against him when I was in Philly, and we were certainly well aware of the impact he could have on a ball game. I had a chance to meet him and be around him, and he certainly doesn't need an invite from me, but much like all the ex-Giants, I look forward to seeing him at practice any time he wants to be here. So, congratulations to him."
Cruz, who will become an NFL analyst for ESPN, played in only 70 regular-season games. But his 303 receptions place him 11th on the franchise list. He burst onto the scene with a three-touchdown performance in the 2010 preseason game vs. the Jets. In Cruz's first regular season in 2011, he set a franchise record with 1,586 yards on 82 receptions, one of them a short toss from Eli Manning that he turned into the only 99-yard play in the 94-year history of the Giants. He caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl XLVI victory against New England.
The following year, Cruz caught 86 passes, including a career-high 10 for touchdowns.
"Victor had a terrific career and a great Giant, and a guy who kind of exploded onto the scene in this preseason game versus the Jets … in 2010," Manning said. "He kind of got injured, missed that whole year. 2011 is when he came on and really just had a great feel for the offense, for his routes in that slot, and he was tough to cover. Running down the field, breaking in, we gave him a lot of options. He mastered some of those concepts and gave him a great opportunity to get open and make big plays for us. Tremendous player, and a great guy. He was in the locker room a few weeks ago. I got to talk with him and hang out with him. Obviously, I wish him all the best going forward. I think he's gone to the dark side and has gone into the media (laughter). I wish him all the best going over there."
Manning's list of Cruz highlights coincides with those of most Giants fans.
"Obviously, the Jets game 2011, second to last game of the season, a 99-yarder just on a little option route," Manning said. "Catch it 10 yards and make the corner miss, and then outrun the safeties for a huge play at the time – leading to us making the playoffs in the first place. Obviously, the touchdown in the Super Bowl over the middle. There's too many, a lot to choose from, a bunch of huge plays."
*Count Mark Herzlich among those who believe he was incorrectly penalized for "lowering the head to initiate contact" in the preseason game in Detroit last week. Herzlich was flagged for hitting Theo Riddick, but replays indicated the running back made the first contact. A new NFL rule outlaws such hits.
"That's not the intent of the rule," Herzlich said. "I'm not necessarily going to do things differently from that standpoint, but we do have to be careful to know what the intent of the rule is and what plays you can't do, so there's no real… You never want to be hitting with your head down anyways in any situation. It's good when it comes to players' safety."
*After Shurmur spoke about Cruz, he was asked about the importance of having former players involved with the current team.
"I think what's important is they understand what it means to be a Giant from a player's perspective, and they understand what it takes to win Super Bowls," Shurmur said. "I talk to everybody, not just players. I called some former (Giants) coaches as well, because I think it's important to hear their perspective, and I'm always looking for perspective. Maybe there's something that they say that might help me message the team, or maybe they'll tell me something that was really special to them as they were building a champion, and so I think it's important to embrace the great players from the past."
*The Giants return to action Friday night as the visiting team in their annual preseason game vs. the Jets, known as the MetLife Bowl. This is the 50th consecutive summer in which the teams will meet since the series began in 1969. The Giants won the 2017 meeting, 32-31, their second consecutive one-point victory against the Jets. They trail in the annual preseason series, 25-23-1, with the tie coming in 1972.
Manning (13, he missed the 2005 game with an elbow sprain) and Zak DeOssie (11) have played in the most Giants-Jets preseason games among current Giants. Their thoughts on the importance of the game:
Manning: "I look at it as the third preseason game and a chance for us to go out there and play for an extended period, against a good defense and a good team. You want to go out there and execute well and feel good about where you are."
DeOssie: "That third preseason game, it's true what they say: guys are going a little bit harder, you get some more real season looks. It's definitely meaningful. Everyone wants to touch that coveted Snoopy trophy, bowl trophy, whatever it may be. It's familiar, we only play them once every four years (in the regular season), but we're familiar playing them this third game, it's the big game for preseason."
*This is Shurmur's first MetLife Bowl.
"I've heard a little bit (about the "rivalry"), but I'm also a guy who thinks you can root for the Yankees and then root for the Mets," he said. "But you know, I'm a little off center. We're going to go out and compete with the Jets and try to do what we can to get our team right, and do what we can to try to win the game. That runs parallel, and I've heard there's a little bit of a rivalry here, so we'll deal with it. I've got a lot of respect for Todd Bowles and, certainly, we've already talked about one of their players, so we don't need to go into that anymore. I've got a lot of respect for what they are as an organization and I think we're both going to play this game with the same thing in mind – get our team better, find out what our team is all about."