Victor Cruz on Giants Super Bowl memories, ‘perfect’ Eli Manning pass

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Post columnist Steve Serby caught up with 2011 Big Blue Super Bowl champion Victor Cruz for some Q&A before the team celebrates the 10-year anniversary of that title.

Q: Is it hard for you to believe that it’s been 10 years since Super Bowl XLVI?

A: Man … I knew this day would come. While I was there, you see the ’07 team come back, or you see the 1990 team come back, and you’re just seeing all these guys and you’re like, “All right, that’s gonna be me (chuckle) one day.” And now the day’s come. It’s a crazy feeling.

Q: One moment from that season that stands out to you about Eli Manning?

A: I remember in San Francisco in the NFC [Championship] game, I’m coming back to the huddle, Eli’s getting pummeled, and I see him get up, and there’s grass everywhere all over his face, chinstrap up by his nose, he’s kind of like on his knees like on his way up, and got in the huddle, all the offensive linemen cleaned him all up, he buckled up his chinstrap and called the next play — and never batted an eye, never like … and I was just like, “I gotta win for this f—ing guy.”

Q: What do you think of him and Peyton Manning on ESPN2’s “Monday Night Football”?

A: It’s incredible, like Eli’s flipping birds … like what are you doing, Eli? (laugh). But I think it’s great for people to finally see their dynamic and how they are and how much fun they have together. It’s literally like a peek behind the curtain of just a dinner table with the Mannings, which is pretty cool.

Q: Describe one moment from that season about Brandon Jacobs.

A: After we beat the Atlanta Falcons [in the NFC wild-card game], he was standing kind of on the sideline talking to Mr. [Steve] Tisch, and he’s pointing at me in his Brandon Jacobs way yelling at the top of his lungs, he goes, “I promise you, if we play like this, we gonna beat Green Bay, we gonna beat everybody, it’s not gonna matter!” That was him. He wore his wore his heart on his sleeve, he yelled probably more times than he talked softly, but he was passionate about his team and he loved us to death.

Q: One memory about Justin Tuck from that season?

A: We would have sneaker battles, right? Like, we were both sneaker guys. And we would pick one certain sneaker and designers, too, and see who could wear that exact shoe in all the different color schemes that we had throughout the week of practice. So every day, if it was a Jordan 3, we would have to wear different variations of Jordan 3s all week long. The next week we would pick another one. … Us having our sneaker wars within the facility.

Q: Who won?

A: I mean, I won, of course. He won’t admit that, obviously, if I know Justin. But I took the crown.

Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz celebrates the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.
AP

Q: What made him the leader that he was?

A: I think, one, just having already been at the pinnacle, right? Like, he’s already won a Super Bowl. He’d already been to that mountaintop and he knew how to get there. He knew there was a journey, he knew there was a long road, and the way that he carried himself, the respect that other players had for him, both on and off the field. I think you just saw that immediately when you met him, and his demeanor, you knew that he was a leader that led not only with his voice, but like he was gonna go out there and put it out on the line for you between the lines as well.

Q: One memory from that season of Osi Umenyiora?

A: Osi would always comment on my fashion (chuckle). I remember him being in the locker room, he would always walk by, like when we were traveling and everybody’d be having their suits on, and he would walk by my locker, and stop, look at me, and give up a thumbs up or a thumbs down (chuckle), and then we’d go about our way. But I remember being like the fashion consultant I didn’t know I wanted.

Q: Could you imagine what it was like for quarterbacks going up against that Giants pass rush?

A: No way. The type of talent that we had, the herd of beasts that they were, the way that it was coming from all angles … the way they competed with themselves. … I would walk by their meeting room, and like after a game, everyone’s just rewatching the game and make corrections — they’d be screaming at the top of their lungs at like whose sack was better, whose move was better. … And I was just like, “These guys are absolute animals,” and I think that level of completion was good for them to bring their “A” games out each and every week, man, and it paid off.

Q: One Hakeem Nicks memory from that season?

A: Oh, man, there’s so many. When there were special-teams meetings, we would be in our receiving room looking over film, literally just me and him and Mario [Manningham], too. I didn’t really play a lot the year before, so we’re still trying to get to know each other. This is towards the end of the year now, maybe like the last two weeks of the season. I kind of knew, but this is when it was vocal to me that I, like, got his respect. And it was when I walked into the room, and he looked at me, and he was like, “Man, you balled out this season, you did your thing like on a different level.” And I was just like, “Thank you man, like I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Q: Any fond memories from that season about any of the offensive linemen?

A: Two things: One was David Diehl. No matter where I was on the field, no matter where I fell, no matter where I caught the ball and fell down to the ground, Dave Diehl was always the first person there to pick me up. Like he was one of the most well-conditioned offensive linemen that we had, and if I caught a 20-yard pass, and I fell on the ground and I got up, he was the first person there to like dap me up and pick me up off the ground. Secondly, Kareem McKenzie just being the most gentle giant human being that I’ve ever met in my entire life. Nothing made him angry, never was like off-kilter, was the most even-keeled man while he was just mauling people on the outside week in and week out (chuckle). And how much the entire offensive line just played through injury, they played through being hurt, they just played through so much, man.

Q: What do you remember about Eli’s relationship with those guys?

A: There’s one instance during the Super Bowl that pretty much embodies it. Eli set up a dinner for all of us at St. Elmo’s [a renowned Indianapolis steakhouse]. We’re walking to St. Elmo’s from the hotel, and I was like, “Are you sure you want to walk? It’s the Super Bowl, guys, and we’re in it!” So, boom, we walk out of the hotel, all five of our offensive linemen, are surrounding Eli, throughout the entire walk. Like, literally in like a fortress where no one could get to him, and we walked smoothly all the way through some streets all the way into the restaurant. And I was like, “There’s no way we’re gonna lose this game now. We’re too much of a family to even remotely lose this game.”

Q: One memory from that season of Tom Coughlin?

A: The memory of him calling me into his office after I made the team, and he said, “Hey, if you don’t put up the same amount of energy and output that you put out the year before, there’s some guys on the waiver wire that we’re looking at.” (chuckle). And I was like, “OK. Noted.” That very next week was Week 3, against Philly [3-for-110, two touchdowns], and the rest of his history.

Q: That was your first salsa, after your 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown?

A: It was put into my ear at the time through my coach, obviously Coach [Mike] Sullivan. And it was just on my mind. As much as I didn’t want to have it on my mind, I was just like, “Well, what if I do get in the end zone?” And I was just like, “Man, if I get in there, maybe I’ll do it, whatever.” And the first I catch I have … and I was just like, “Well damn, I gotta do it now. It just makes sense.” And then I remember coming home, my grandmother saw it, I guess they aired it on the Spanish channel, ’cause that’s the only channel she watches. She was like, “From now on, every time you’re out there and you score a touchdown, you gotta do that dance.”

Q: What did that one do for your confidence?

A: I mean, it was through the roof. It really just proves to me that I can play at this level and that like I belonged.

Q: Describe your 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown up the sideline on Christmas Eve against the Jets.

A: We were backed up, really not doing anything up to that moment, and then to make the play that kind of catapults us and puts some life into the entire team, I was happy to be the one to do it.

Q: So that’s a top-three moment for you, maybe?

A: Hundred percent. Hundred percent.

Q: What’s your No. 1 moment?

A: The No. 1 moment has to be the Super Bowl, right? Scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl, you dream about that as a kid. My sister gave me a book when I was 7 about me being a football player and being in the Super Bowl next to Jerry Rice. It was like this weird book. It’s like an actual book, but they make it custom so they insert your name within the storyline. Basically the storyline was me watching the game on TV, falling asleep, waking up, I’m in the game. … And then I end up like kicking the game-winner, which is hilarious (chuckle). And fast forward, I’m in the Super Bowl, Jerry Rice is walking the sideline, and I’m here scoring a touchdown.

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Victor Cruz salsa dances after scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Anthony J. Causi

Q: What was one Coughlin speech from that season?

A: Gotta go with the Super Bowl, right before the Super Bowl, he gave an incredible speech. You could feel that it came from his heart. It was one of those things where it really just motivates us, you could tell it motivates us to play for him and to win this game and to continue to fulfill all of our legacies, including his. … He told us he loved us at the end, that like he wouldn’t trade us in for the world kind of thing.

Q: Were you aware that the Jets had covered up the Giants’ Super Bowl logos before that [Christmas Eve] game?

A: I had heard the commotion, but I think I found out like at halftime.

Q: Was it extra satisfying ruining their playoff bid?

A: I mean, of course. If you look closely at the 99-yarder right at the very end, I kind of like take a couple of he-ho steps and throw the ball into the Jets logo into the wall. Snoopy Bowl, all the chips on the line to go to the Super Bowl or continue to be in the hunt to go to the playoffs, we knew what was riding on it. We didn’t want to disappoint.

Q: Describe the atmosphere at the wild-card playoff game against Atlanta.

A: Oh, my goodness, man. I’ve been to some big games at MetLife, but to see the decibel level of the voices in there, it was just the loudest I had ever heard it. If I remember correctly, they gave everybody white towels, and it was just absolutely electric in there, and it was just a sound and a moment that I’ll never forget.

Q: The Packers in Green Bay were next?

A: Cold, cold, cold, cold, cold.

Q: How did you deal with the cold?

A: I think we just kind of blocked it out. We made a conscious decision to go no sleeves. I just made sure my chest was insulated and I was able to still be mobile and catch the ball and make all the moves I wanted to make. Having that mindset with all of us, it really just made me be free and just play, I wasn’t thinking about the cold until those TV timeouts that make it hard not to.

Q: Describe Nicks’ Hail Mary TD catch before halftime.

A: That was one for the ages.

49ers
Victor Cruz breaks free of the 49ers defense.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Q: Your game in the NFC Championship game in San Francisco when you had 10 catches for 142 yards?

A: I was just relentless, man. It was one of those games where I felt like everybody’s watching, everybody back home is watching, I can’t go out like a punk (chuckle), you know what I mean? Like I gotta make sure they feel me in this one. And I think Eli knew that, too. I think subconsciously or on his mind, he was like, “I’m gonna look for Vic early and often.” I could feel Coach [Kevin] Gilbride [offensive coordinator] setting me up for success throughout the week of practice, which gave me all the confidence in the world once game time came around.

Q: And when Lawrence Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime?

A: I mean, we’re going to the Super Bowl, baby! I just remember realizing in that moment like: “I’m about to go to the Super Bowl and play in the highest game of my life, the game that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid, since the first time I turned the TV on and saw what football was.” Like … I’m going to that game. I was running around the field like a little kid, just enjoying that moment, man. It was a surreal feeling.

Q: Did you guys enjoy being underdogs again, four years later, against the Patriots?

A: We loved being that team that nobody expected to win.

Q: How about Manning-to-Manningham?

A: Oh, my god, that’s probably the most perfect ball I’ve ever seen Eli throw … ever. The way he put it right in the pocket, Mario doing what he does best, tight-roping that sideline like he always does … it was just perfect. And I remember looking at the replay when they were challenging it or going through the play, and me counting, like him catching it and taking the two steps and just being excited that he actually got the two feet in, I was just going crazy.

Q: No doubt in your mind that Eli’s a Hall of Famer, correct?

A: Not a single doubt, man. Two Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVPs, slayer the dragon that is Tom Brady twice. He’s in there for sure, in my book.

Q: You’ll be 35 next month. If Brady’s playing at 44, why can’t you play?

A: (Laugh) I’ve been saying that to myself every day, man, every single day.

Q: What were you thinking when Tom Brady was throwing deep at the end?

A: I was holding my breath, man, I was pacing back and forth the whole drive, and then when he threw it up in the air, and it felt like it was in the air for three hours, and then when it finally came down, I saw Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] kind of dive for it, and once it hit the ground, I was just like a huge sigh (chuckle) of relief.

Q: What stands out to you about Kadarius Toney?

A: The explosiveness. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this type of explosiveness in a player when he has the football in his hands. He’s kind of long and stringy in a way, but he’s compact and makes all these moves in a short space which I love.

Q: In a way, he’s a combination of you and Odell Beckham Jr.?

A: Yeah it’s a little bit of both ’cause he’s tough in the middle of the field, he finds ways to get open in there, but that catch he made on the sideline over the [Cowboys] defender was Odell-like too. So he does a little bit of everything, which I love.

Q: What are your thoughts on Daniel Jones?

A: I have every faith in him that he’s the guy for the job.

Q: And Joe Judge?

A: I love him, man. He’s a straight shooter, and he holds these guys accountable for everything that they do. And I love that, and I think they rally around that, and I think the team is embodying that personality in that aspect of him, and I think it’s only gonna pay dividends in the long run too, do, they just gotta stay the course, you know?

Q: You started the Victor Cruz Foundation in 2012?

A: We do a lot of great work in the community with the Boys & Girls Club just getting kids to learn science, technology engineering and math (STEM) in a fun, cool way. I went to a White House Science Fair, and I just saw these young kids making these different things, and they were no more than 12, 13 … some kids were 10, 11 years old making these super-cool products, and I wanted to bring it to the kids from my hometown [Paterson, N.J.].

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Victor Cruz joins 50 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic for a holidays shopping spree with his foundation.
Natan Dvir

Q: Did you meet President Obama?

A: I did, I did! He even mentioned my name in a speech, which was absolutely insane.

Q: What do you suspect your emotions will be on Sunday?

A: Just nostalgic, like I’m just excited to just go through memory lane, and be with the fellas, and just have that camaraderie back for that day. I’m excited just to be around the guys again, man, and reliving those moments and the stories that I probably forgot about, that I’ll hear again.

Q: How old is your daughter, Kennedy, now?

A: She’ll be 10 in January. She was born Jan. 9 of 2012. The day after the Atlanta game, she was born.

Q: Will she be there Sunday?

A: Yeah, I’m gonna bring her with me.

Q: What do you hope the legacy of the Super Bowl XLVI is for Giants fans?

A: I just want them to think of just a bunch of dudes that just scrapped. We didn’t care what happened, we were just gonna continue to fight. We never doubted ourselves, man, and I just want the fans to know that we were a group that never, ever quit. There was never any quit in our eyes, and we knew that we had the talent to be special that year, and we really dug deep and got it done.

Q: What do Giants fans mean to Victor Cruz?

A: I just think it’s been an incredible journey, and I don’t think it’s even close to ending, I think it’s still being written. But to have my journey play out in front of my hometown, and in front of my hometown fans, in front of my family, in front of all the millions of Giants fans across the world, man, it’s just been an incredible ride. And the fans, they always show me so much love everywhere I go. I’m in Dunkin’ Donuts, and I’m signing autographs for the guy’s daughter. … I just love the love, I just love that everyone thinks of me as their family.

Q: What do you hope Giants fans say about Victor Cruz’s legacy?

A: Aw man … I just want them to just think of me as one of them. I was truly a person that came from just down the road in Paterson and played in front of my family, that’s the legacy I want, I want it to be like a family. And I always wanted to be able to come back and tap into my Giants family — fans, teammates, everybody.



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