The last time Victor Cruz played in a game, Ben McAdoo was the new offensive coordinator for the Giants, Derek Jeter was two weeks removed from his final game, Terry Collins still hadn’t had a winning season with the Mets and Derek Fisher was getting ready for his first regular season as Knicks coach.
On October 12, 2014, Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon in the end zone at Philadelphia. Cruz was gone for the rest of the season but looked to return in 2015 before aggravating his calf. His 2015 return was pushed back and then called off when he underwent surgery. Now he’s back.
“I’m ready,” Cruz said. “Obviously it’s been a long time coming. I had a good week of practice, everything feels great so I’m just excited to put that out there on the game field for the first time in a long time.”
Cruz will finally get on the field Saturday night against the Jets, in the third preseason game of the year. It means nothing in the standings, yet this will be more than a game to Cruz.
“Absolutely,” Cruz said. “I think this one is more of just the game. This one is crossing so many hurdles, so many barriers. So many ups and downs that I had to face to get to this moment. Now, I’m just ready to relax and go play some football again. To me, this game is bigger than just the game.”
McAdoo likes what he’s seen in practice and was reminded of a Cruz performance against Houston when the wide receiver caught five passes for 107 yards in a win over Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Texans.
“When he first got out here this week, he showed a burst and showed some acceleration, he can put his foot in the ground,” McAdoo said. “He had a really nice release on a slant, which reminded me of the Houston game a few years ago, so it is encouraging.”
Wide recovers coach Adam Henry added that, “I’ve seen progress with Victor. It’s going along, slowly but surely. So just taking our time with him. But I’m optimistic.”
Eli Manning is glad to have one of his most talented targets back in the mix. “I thought Victor had a good week of practice,” Manning said. “It was good to have him back. He looked explosive, fast and healthy. He was making plays. That little rest he got paid off and it’s good to see him. Excited to see him on a game day and to see him in some live action.”
The 99-yard touchdown from Manning to Cruz against the Jets on Christmas Eve 2011 is in Giants lore (and Jets infamy), but the receiver’s introduction to Gang Green came in the 2010 preseason. Cruz caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. His Saturday night return will be against the team that shares MetLife Stadium with the Giants.
“It’s the story of my life,” Cruz said. “You can’t write it any better than this. This is the way my career has gone. It’s the way my professional career has gone. The Jets preseason game has always been some type of landmark situation for me, so here we go again.”
The 2010 performance was the one that helped Cruz make the Giants in the first place. “It was Victor Cruz before anyone knew who Victor Cruz was,” Manning said. “He made a name for himself that night.”
Now everyone knows who he is, and all eyes will be on number 80 on Saturday.