ALBANY, N.Y. – Early in the Giants' training camp practice today, the Giants' quarterbacks and receivers were running a basic passing drill with no defense opposing them. Victor Cruz ran a simple out route and reached back to make a nifty catch of Eli Manning's pass.
The crowd at the University at Albany roared as if he had just scored another Super Bowl touchdown.
Manning will always be the most popular Giant. But judging by the crowd reaction early in training camp, Cruz has moved into a close second.
"It's all good, man," Cruz said after practice. "Anytime the fans take a liking to you, it's always positive, especially when it's for something positive. I'm all for it. I do this for myself, but I do it for the fans to enjoy themselves and to bring some fun back into the game and to bring some life back into it. Whatever I can do to bring some life back into the position is what I want to do. I'm just glad the fans took a liking to me in a positive way. Whatever I can do to keep them happy and energized while they're out there watching football."
Cruz became a big hit in 2011, his first full NFL season. He set a Giants record with 1,536 receiving yards while catching 82 passes and scoring nine touchdowns. Cruz added 21 more receptions and the Giants' first score in their victory over New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
But it was far more than just statistics that endeared Cruz to the fans. He celebrated each touchdown with a Salsa dance the fans loved. Cruz has an engaging smile and will seemingly chat with reporters or supporters from sunrise to sunset. In the offseason, he made numerous personal appearances and even wrote an autobiography, "Out of the Blue."
The Giants held their annual autograph day for the more than 5,000 fans who attended practice. Cruz attracted one of the largest and loudest followings. Fans yelled for him in English and Spanish. They thrust footballs, T-shirts and sheets of paper at him to sign. A few even had copies of his book. Most seemed to yell, "Cruuuuuuz."
"It was pretty crazy," Cruz said. "It's just amazing to see that even a year later the fans are still behind you. And they're still doing the 'Cruz' chants and all of that. It's fun.
"They say they like your book. They can really relate to my story now because they have it on paper and they can read it. It's always good to have them behind you."
As much as he enjoys the attention, Cruz knows it will last only as long as he excels on the field.
"You can't take it too much to the head," he said. "Just have fun with it. You only get to live this life once. Your life span in the NFL isn't long. You've got to take every day and enjoy every day and take it as a compliment."
*Jason Pierre-Paul was examined by the athletic trainers during practice but quickly returned to drills.
"At first I looked back and I didn't even know he was back there," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Then they said he was. He went back in. We'll see."
*Defensive end Justin Trattou left with an ankle injury.
"He was hobbled pretty good there," Coughlin said. "They had to send him for X-rays. We'll see what it is."
*Running back Da'Rel Scott did not practice because of a swollen ankle.
*Because of the threat of rain, the Giants practiced for the first time ever on UAlbany's lacrosse field, which has FieldTurf. It rained during the final 20 minutes of the workout.
"It's raining two minutes before you practice, so you have to go where you can practice," Coughlin said. "That's the issue. That's two in a row (practices under the threat of storms). We got yesterday's in, and we had a little trouble with today, obviously. When we use the turf field there's some areas that I didn't want to get close to, so we did the best we could with one field. We got our practice in, got a lot of people a lot of work. So for our second day, obviously our defense looked a little better today, the offense not so good."
*The practice attendance was 5,110.
*The Giants, PYX 106 and NewsChannel 13 are teaming up with the American Red Cross to host the New York Giants Training Camp Blood Drive on Thursday, August 2, from noon to 7 p.m. The event will be held at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, 1228 Western Avenue, Albany, N.Y. 12203, across from the team's training camp site at the University at Albany.
Each presenting donor will have their photo taken with the Super Bowl Trophy, and the first 500 presenting donors will also receive a limited edition Giants commemorative T-shirt. Giants legends George Martin, Ottis Anderson and Joe Morris will appear throughout the day to greet donors and sign autographs.
A limited number of appointments are available, so fans are encouraged to visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS to register.