Here’s a salute to you Salsa Man

victor-cruz
A salute to the Salsa Man: Even though his Giants career is over, Victor Cruz will always hold a special place in Big Blue hearts. AP Photo via Getty Images 

As expected, the New York Giants cut ties with Victor Cruz. The popular wide receiver who was a huge part of the special 2011 season resulting in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl championship, was released along with running back Rashad Jennings to cut about $10 million in salary freeing up cap space.

Cruz will be best remembered for his amazing run. In 2011, he came out of nowhere to become the Giants’ best receiver finishing with 82 receptions, 1536 yards and nine touchdowns. Astonishingly, the undrafted receiver out of the University of Massachusetts was an afterthought for that special season. He was fourth on the depth chart before an injury to Domenik Hixon gave Cruz his big chance.

Combining with Hakeem Nicks to form a deadly tandem who Eli Manning could trust, Cruz became the dangerous threat in the middle of the field who could break away for scores like a track star. Along with sidekick Mario Manningham, whose clutch catch in a Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots set up Ahmad Bradshaw’s winning score, Big Blue had a balanced attack featuring the aforementioned Bradshaw and popular bruiser Brandon Jacobs.

The kicker was the clutch Lawrence Tynes, whose dramatic game-winning field goal at Lambeau Field on the frozen tundra sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLII in sudden death where they stunned the undefeated Pats 17-14 as predicted by Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress, who caught the winning score from Manning. A game best remembered for Eli escaping a sure sack and then hurling a laser down field which was somehow hauled in by David Tyree with him miraculously clinging to the football against his helmet.

Justin Tuck led a defense that featured Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster. Michael Strahan had already retired for a successful TV career that’s been outstanding where he co-hosts the NFL On Fox and is moving on to bigger and better things at ABC.

Thinking back to that 2011 season, it hung in the balance in a defining game against the Jets. It was Tom Coughlin’s humble Giants who prevailed over Rex Ryan’s supremely confident Jets due to an amazing 99-yard touchdown catch and sprint by Cruz. A play that is often replayed for keying that run. They were in trouble having lost five of six including a gut wrenching defeat to the Redskins after a big win over the Cowboys. It was do or die against the Jets, who needed the game just as badly. Cruz’ big touchdown was the one that carried Big Blue to the win as they pulled away. The Giants would defeat the Cowboys in the final week 31-14 to win the NFC East.

After hammering the Falcons 24-2 at home, they went to Green Bay again just like in 2008. This time, it wasn’t Brett Favre they beat. But Aaron Rodgers. The defense dominated and the offense kicked it into high gear led by Manning’s three touchdowns including two to Nicks. Jacobs and Manningham also scored as there would be no dramatics in a 37-20 win.

They advanced to the NFC Title game where they faced old rival San Francisco. It brought back memories as the two classic rivals from the 80’s, 90’s and even early 00’s clashed. The 49ers had already beat them in the regular season. But the Giants found a way to slow down Alex Smith. A Manningham touchdown combined with a David Akers field goal forced sudden death. A lost fumble by Kyle Williams on a punt return set up Tynes’ winning field goal from 31 yards out sending the underdog Giants to Super Bowl XLVI where they would defeat the Patriots again. This time by a score of 21-17.

They don’t get there without the valuable Cruz, whose 10 receptions for 142 yards took apart the 49ers’ secondary. In the four-point come from behind victory over New England, he caught a touchdown pass from Manning. On an impressive drive with the team trailing 17-15, Manning led them down field. He handed off to Bradshaw, who didn’t want to score. But his momentum carried him into the end zone putting the Giants ahead 21-17. The two-point try was unsuccessful.

The defense got the job done stifling Tom Brady and the vaunted Pats offense. Honestly, without that D which also keyed the monumental 17-14 upset of a perfect New England team entering Super Bowl 42, there’s no championships under Coughlin. And both were amazing runs which came unexpected. On the biggest stage, Manning performed well winning two Super Bowl MVP’s. However, Tuck could’ve won one.

Somewhat interesting about the Giants franchise history, in all four Super Bowl wins, they have faced the AFC opponent once in the regular season. They went 2-2 in those games only to win all four for the Lombardi Trophy. The only time they didn’t was Super Bowl XXXV when the dominant Ravens defense hammered them 34-7 in 2001.

As for Cruz, the Salsa Man became one of the biggest fan favorites in team history. Whenever he made a big catch, he was serenaded by Big Blue supporters with chants of “Cruuuuuzzz!!!!!”

He deserved it. Now 30, he’s been a classic overachiever. If not for injuries, Cruz would still be a Giant. Bur that has a way of changing things. We’ve seen it so many times in the NFL. Whether it be Nicks, Steve Smith, Bradshaw or Cruz, they can shorten careers. It’s a shame because Cruz is the local kid from Patterson, New Jersey who made good. His salsa dance will always be classic after scoring. He’s beloved by fans. Even if his role diminished in a mostly healthy 2016 that saw the Giants get back to the playoffs with only 39 catches for 586 yards with a touchdown, he’ll always be cherished by New Jersey and New York fans who live and die with Big Blue.

We know what he did and we appreciate it. Cruz says he thinks he still has plenty left. So, it looks like he’ll move elsewhere. The Broncos are showing interest. The thing is how much does he have left. He’s had so many setbacks. It makes one ponder if he can ever be a consistent player again. I am rooting for him. Even if he admitted fault with the whole boat party in Miami on New Year’s Eve prior to getting eliminated by the Packers, it doesn’t change my perspective.

The salsa man will always have a special place in our hearts. Here’s to you. ❤

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Published by

Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.

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