Then one day last year Cruz turned on his favorite show and the player that kept appearing in the videos, the one the announcers were shrieking about was … Victor Cruz.
Then a free agent rookie with the Giants, Cruz thrust himself into the national highlight conversation with an extraordinary performance in his first-ever NFL game on Aug. 16, 2010. In a quarter of action in a preseason game against the Jets – from the 2:40 mark of the third quarter to 2:24 of the fourth – Cruz caught six passes for 146 yards. Three of the receptions were touchdowns, including a spectacular 64-yarder from Jim Sorgi the first time he touched the ball. He also scored on 34-yard throw from Sorgi and a five-yarder from Rhett Bomar.
The Giants and Jets are now scheduled to renew their preseason rivalry in MetLife Stadium on Monday at 7 p.m. It's the third starting game time for the game, which was originally scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m., then moved up to 2 p.m. and finally back 48 hours from the original, all because of Hurricane Irene.
"Along with the NFL office and the Jets, we have closely monitored the hurricane and the forecast and its potential impact on our area for the past several days," said John Mara, the Giants President and Chief Executive Officer. "After conferring with (New Jersey) Governor (Chris) Christie, (Jets owner) Woody Johnson and (NFL) Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, we have determined the best course of action for the safety and well being of all is to move the game to Monday night."
The Giants are now scheduled to play two games in four days; their preseason finale is set for Thursday night at New England.
This week, the Giants tried to prepare as normally as possible. During a break, Cruz was asked to share his recollections about the Monday night he became a Sportscenter sensation.
"Playing the Jets always brings back good memories, especially coming off of last year," Cruz said. "I did some good things against them last year, so it will be a good game.
"I haven't watched (the game tape) in a long time, but I do remember having butterflies in my stomach and going out there and not knowing what to expect. Not knowing the speed of the game and just to have that first play from scrimmage go down like that was just a surreal moment. The rest was just me playing off instinct. My confidence level was pretty high and I was going out there and just playing. It felt good."
It looked good as well. The show began when the Giants took possession on their own 36 late in the third quarter. On first down, Sorgi lofted a pass down the left side for Cruz, who was blanketed by cornerback Dwight Lowery. While somehow warding Lowery off with his right arm, Cruz thrust out his left arm, caught the ball in stride at the Jets' 40 and sprinted to the end zone for the touchdown.
Cruz appeared to push Lowery out of the way.
"Not at all," Cruz said. "A receiver never admits to something that was possibly illegal. I don't think I did. I think I came down and my hand was kind of on his helmet."
On the Giants' next possession, Cruz made another outstanding catch, again victimizing Lowery for a 21-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, on second down from the 34, Cruz beat Drew Coleman and scored his second touchdown with another nice grab on a pass from Sorgi.
Cruz still wasn't finished. With 2:24 remaining in the game, he completed his hat trick with a five-yard score.
For Cruz, the fun didn't end when the game did.
"I probably had about 170 text messages, somewhere around 80 phone calls," Cruz said. "It was a crazy time for me. A lot of friends and family members were calling me. College teammates, high school teammates, coaches, other people's parents, people I didn't even know, people I hadn't heard from that I didn't know had my number. I was like, 'Who is this leaving me voice mails?' It was a surreal feeling."
All those people had either seen the game (which was on ESPN) or the highlights. But Cruz's review of the big night was delayed.
"Because I was a rookie I had to wait until we went all the way up to Albany (where the Giants held training camp)," he said. "I had to wait until the next day to see the highlights. Me and my old roommate, Nate Collins, were in the room and we watched Sportscenter all day just to see the highlights.
"It was definitely a dream come true. Growing up and watching them talk about all the great players – Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco and all these other receivers – and to have your name come up there and they show your highlights and your bio blast and all that stuff, it was pretty cool."
The aftermath was no less hectic for Cruz, who is from nearby Paterson, N.J.
"My life has definitely changed a lot from last year," Cruz said. "Going out and being places and being around my hometown. When I go back home people want to talk to me, people know me and a lot of coaches want me to talk to their kids."
Cruz is now working on realizing another dream, making the final roster and contributing to the Giants during the season. He was a member of the 53-man squad early last season, but played in only three games and did not catch a pass before landing on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Cruz frequently lined up in training camp as the slot receiver, the spot once held by Steve Smith.
Cruz admits he doesn't have the same rapport with Eli Manning as Smith, but he is working to develop one as quickly as possible.
"The chemistry that those two had came from a lot of practices and a lot of time on the field," Cruz said. "Obviously, we have to condense that time. I'm just trying to be a sponge and listen to him and hear what he has to say and what he sees on specific routes and specific plays. I'm just trying to soak up all the information he gives me. Hopefully, it projects on the field."
In the Giants' 41-13 rout of the Chicago Bears Monday night, Cruz caught three passes for 40 yards, including a terrific leaping grab of a Manning pass for a 21-yard gain on fourth-and-four.
"I thought Victor Cruz did some really good things in there," Manning said.
"He has caught the ball, more in practice than in the games, obviously, and he is very quick," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "He has demonstrated that again and he has caught the ball in some difficult spots."
But his night was not perfect. The television cameras caught offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride pointedly lecturing Cruz following one series against the Bears.
"It wasn't that he ran the wrong route it was the details and how the route needs to be run and the depth it needs to be run at," Coughlin said. "It is a constant sense of urgency in not only what you think you are supposed to do, but how you are supposed to do it. How you are supposed to adjust it and it is just not for him, it is for everybody, not just Victor. The specifics, the details, the absolute part of it so that there is no hesitation on the part of the quarterback."
As Cruz learned last year, the cameras capture everything. Although he didn't enjoy watching Gilbride's discussion as much as his three touchdowns, Cruz said this has been a better summer for him.
"I was a little bit on eggshells last year, because being a free agent you don't know if you're going to make the team," he said. "Every day is a struggle for you. You have to make a play. Last year was definitely a much harder year for me emotionally than this year. This year, I always approach it like I have to make the team and I have to do what I have to do to make the 53. I approach every year like that. This year there's a little more attention to detail.
"You always want to go in and just pray for the best. I don't come in with an expectation. I am just going in and playing my best and see what happens."
*Coughlin said the starters will play 30-35 plays, but "basically it will be a half. A few may go beyond a little bit." Asked if the weather might affect that, Coughlin said, "We will see how bad it is."
Manning will start, followed by David Carr. Ryan Perrilloux might get some snaps as the third quarterback. Sage Rosenfels, who has been sidelined by strep throat and a sore back, will miss his second game in a row.
*Cornerback Brian Williams, who was signed on Wednesday and has practiced just once with the team, could make his Giants debut.
"I hope to play him," Coughlin said. "I wouldn't say much but he needs to play."
*The Giants and Jets will meet for the 43rd consecutive preseason since the series began in 1969. The Giants trail in the preseason series, 22-19-1, with the tie coming in 1972. The two teams will meet again in the regular season on Dec. 24. The Giants will be the visiting team. They lead the regular season series, 7-4.