July 17, 2012
SALSA IN THE NFL
By David Morales
Víctor Cruz has proven that his best move, on and off the field, was never giving up. Todo a ritmo de salsa
“Cruuuuuuz, Cruuuuuuuz, Cruuuuuz”. The first time Blanca heard thousand of NFL fans shouting her son’s last name, she got worried. She mistakenly thought they were booing him. Later on, she realized that Victor, New York Giants’ wide receiver, was developing a very special relationship with them -- and that shout-out, along with Victor’s trademarked salsa dance on the field, had a lot to do with it.
Long gone are the times when African-American firefighter, Mike Walker, and Puerto Rican born, Blanca Cruz, struggled to make a living for themselves and little Victor in Paterson, New Jersey. Even at a very young age, it was clear that Victor inherited his father’s passion for football despite Blanca’s objections: “no me parecía prudente que jugara un deporte tan fuerte en un barrio como el nuestro”.
Some years later, as Mike encouraged Victor to give Football a try, Blanca was more excited about the scholarship he obtained at UMass. However, Victor didn’t share her enthusiasm, and trouble was on the way.
"I think the lowest point for us was when he lost his scholarship and really messed up in school," Blanca said to ESPN. "Victor was the first one to go to college in our family, and it was really sad”. At stake, was not only Victor’s chance of having a career. This situation was also about to rule out any possibility of Victor building a future in football.
After having been kicked out of college twice, it seemed that Victor was taking his mother’s efforts for granted. He was derailed, until the moment that tragedy knocked on his door: Mike Walker died, and Victor had to learn the hard way what it meant to be “the man of the house,” and look after his mother and sisters.
He wanted to make it up to Blanca, and this meant earning his way back to UMass as student and a football player. As a result, he not only went back to college, he finished his career with 131 catches, ranking himself fourth on the all-time UMass receiving list.
Blanca’s confidence in Victor was returning, just as he got his big chance: the New York Giants were looking for wide receivers, and Victor’s impressive record in college caught the scouters’ attention. During a pre-season game against the New York Jets on August 6th, 2010, Cruz helped the Giants win 31-16 by catching 6 passes for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. That was barely a glimpse of his achievements to come. Some months later, Victor’s 1,536 receiving yards set a single season franchise record for the New York Giants.
Among many impressive performances, Victor Cruz’s greatest achievement to date has been helping the Giants to get their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy, as they won the XLVII NFL Super Bowl by beating New England Patriots 21-17. Against all odds, Giants performed better than their rivals and game favorites – the New England Patriots – by taking advantage of their mistakes during crucial moments of the game.
Today, Blanca doesn’t miss a single game, while waiting for his now legendary salsa celebration. "It's always been important to us that he acknowledges my heritage, and his grandmother's heritage; to let everyone know where he came from”. You make think Latin blood is the trick for receiving and dancing (he even rejected a chance to perform in “Dancing with the Stars”), but it goes beyond that. Victor is now a role model for children and youth in his native Paterson, New Jersey. He has proven that his best move, on and off the field, was never giving up.
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