Here’s a salute to you Salsa Man

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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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A Return of Sorts

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Venus Williams will try to win her first Australian Open at age 36 when she goes up against younger sister Serena, who aims for history. An Australian Open to remember. Plus other thoughts including on the Knicks and Super Bowl. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Live Tennis.

I haven’t posted anything in a while. So, I am just gonna put together some random thoughts on a few things that are on my mind.

1.I have been going to the gym all week and am doing better. I had been putting it off for so long that I knew it was gonna finally happen. I gotta say I am pretty happy with the results. Increased energy. Better eating habits. Still gotta work on the sleep part. But I definitely am ready to reach my goal. Getting older, you have to be more focused and put more time in. I am ready for the challenge. 🙂

2.The key for me is just to stay in tune on one thing at a time. The same applies to work, life and friends. And of course, writing which will always be my true passion. I have started to write poems again at work when it drags. And so far, it’s nice to see my creative side coming out. I wrote this for someone special who I will always love no matter what:

“Your Rose”

by Derek Felix

Your rose is pink like neon lights

Above on a cold dark winters night

With a starry sky floating gold jewels

As a cool reminder that sunnier weather lies ahead

Just close your eyes and dream in bed

And its warmth will give you strength

I never did get around to finishing it. But I think the six lines say plenty. You can tell how much I care about her. I am in a funny place and have been for a while. One where I wish I was with this person but have become attracted to someone else at my job. And they are great too. But if push came to shove, well. I don’t think anything else needs to be said.

3.Writing has always come easy for me. Whether it’s blogging about hockey on New York Puck/Battle Of New York or other sports or life events/happenings, I am really good at expressing myself. I need to do it more consistently and build an audience again.

4.The Super Bowl is next week. It should be a good one. I am pulling hard for close Georgia buddy Colin’s Falcons. I have been on them since the Giants were Eli-minated by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. A frustrating loss due to the lack of offensive creativity in a first half Big Blue controlled. Eventually, Rodgers picked them apart. Special teams were awful. Ben McAdoo’s play calling at times left much to be desired. They had a good year winning 11 games. Let’s just leave it at that.

5.I am strongly in favor of Matt Ryan winning MVP. I know it’s unlikely due to Rodgers and the invincible and ageless Tom Brady. I’m sure Matty Ice would take a Super Bowl championship ring over a regular season award any day. Especially if he or Julio Jones get game MVP at the expense of the Patriots. Here’s to hoping and believing.

6.Tennis is on my mind. When you have the Williams sisters playing for the first time in a grand slam final since 2009, it’s special. Especially for older sis Venus, who at age 36 showed pure joy when she beat Coco Vandeweghe in a tight three sets to make the final. Younger sister Serena, who is 35, aims for history. If she wins, it would be number 23 passing Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era. She tied Graf by winning her seventh Wimbledon last year. I wish I could stay up and watch. But it’ll be 3:30 in the morning here and I have to be up for work.

7.I never thought we’d see the day where it would be Roger vs Rafa again for a slam. But here we are with the improbable happening with Federer and Nadal playing for a major for the first time in quite a while. With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray falling victim to mammoth upsets, it paved the way for Federer and Nadal to go through a draw that was still challenging. Each was pushed five sets in great semifinals. First, Roger edged countryman Stan Wawrinka in five. Then, Nadal went nearly five hours with the end still on at after 8 AM here with him digging deep to beat Grigor Dimitrov in a memorable match. That came after straight setting Milos Raonic and needing four sets to defeat Gael Monfils. That tells you all you need to know about Rafa. He is 30 now and is in his first slam final in three years. He last won in 2014 with his ninth French Open giving the flamboyant Spaniard 14 majors to tie Pete Sampras.

Rafa and Roger will meet for the first time since 2011 when Nadal beat Federer in four sets to win the French Open. They’ve had some epic battles. Both have overcome injuries to come back and make it the first grand slam where both singles championships will be played by all four players who are 30-or-over. It’s never happened before. You have Federer at 35 and Nadal at 30 who seems older due to all the injuries he’s dealt with. Plus the questions about whether he had what it took to make a deep run again. They are close friends. Head to head, Rafa is 6-2 versus Roger in grand slam finals winning the last four meetings. It should be amazing.

There’s a reason I love the Australian Open. Sure. The time difference is a nightmare. But late night matches are fun and this tournament has gotten better and better since I started watching. The first tennis major has been memorable. How will the script end?

8.I am just gonna put out this thought on Carmelo Anthony. He will always be a great scorer and will one day make the NBA Hall Of Fame. Melo is one of the few stars who wanted to play in New York City. He got his wish when Denver made a blockbuster trade with the Knicks involving a lot of players going the other way including Galinari, Nene, Mozgov and Wilson Chandler. It was overpayment due to Dolan. However, there is this one thing that bothers me. It’s easy for fans and especially hypocritical media to rip on Anthony. But the guy has always taken a pounding scoring inside and out doing it with more wear and tear than most stars. It’s wrong to put this on him. It falls 100 percent on Phil Jackson. His refusal to speak to the media is pathetic. He’s left Melo hanging and is shopping him to anyone who will listen. It’s the ultimate disrespect. Even if it’s the right move for Anthony to go compete for a title and for the Knicks’ future, Phil has been horrible. Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, who they’re ruining by overplaying him with an injury, what has he done? Nada.

9.If I cared what LeBron thought on key issues, I would listen. Do us all a favor and shut up.

10.Here is a throwback song from Guns N’ Roses from the Use Your Illusion album that is still one of the best. Underappreciated song: