One Word That Describes Victor Cruz and the 3 Lessons It Taught Me
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, perseverance means "steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”
With perseverance, anyone can overcome any obstacle to reach his or her goals. It’s simply a matter of putting in the work.
As an undrafted rookie out of UMass in 2010, Cruz overcame the odds and made the Giants final 53-man roster. He showed enough grit and determination during training camp and the preseason that summer to prove he deserved a spot on the team.
In a win over the Jets that very preseason, Cruz caught six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns alone. He would finish out the preseason with 297 receiving yards and tied for the preseason lead with four touchdown catches.
It’s this kind of production that gained the attention of head coach Tom Coughlin, a man who was notorious for not trusting rookies, and earned Cruz a spot on the team.
Lesson #1: First and Foremost, Believe in Yourself
In any line of work, those who don’t believe in themselves will never have what it takes to persevere and show their peers their true potential.
For Cruz, it was his unwavering belief in his abilities that helped earn Tom Coughlin’s respect. It was this moment that Cruz himself calls his "favorite Vic moment."
Cruz would eventually develop a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the rest of that season, but at that point, he’d already flashed his potential and sparked interest among his coaches and teammates.
In his second season as a Giant, Cruz eventually became Eli Manning’s favorite target after starting the season as the Giants’ number four wide receiver.
In one game against the favored Philadelphia Eagles during that 2011 season, an injury to Domenik Hixon thrusted Cruz into the spotlight. That very game, Cruz finished with 110 yards and two touchdowns...on just three catches.
It was clear at that point that this was a special player.
By the end of that same season, Cruz finished with 82 receptions, a franchise-best 1,536 receiving yards, more than a handful of crucial plays — including a 99-yard reception against the Jets that propelled the Giants into the playoffs — and last but not least…a Super Bowl ring.
Zero to hero. Just like that.
Lesson #2: Never Settle for Less Than Greatness
Greatness, in any setting, will never be achieved without effort. To settle for less is to admit mediocrity.
It would’ve been easy for Cruz to make the team, enjoy a respectable NFL salary and coast for the rest of his career, but that’s not what he did. Cruz became a crucial part of a team that simply would not have won Super Bowl XLVI that year had it not been for his determination to be more than adequate.
Cruz humbly honed his craft and rose above and beyond all expectations mentally and physically to achieve greatness. And he did it without boastful arrogance or defiance.
Cruz’s career numbers would never again match his franchise record-setting breakout year, but he was still an asset to the Giants offense, recording 1,092 and 998 receiving yards in 2012 and 2013, respectfully. It was this that earned Cruz a 5-year, $43 million contract with the New York Giants, proving that the organization still believed in him and his abilities.
Then, in 2014, Cruz suffered a devastating patellar tendon injury during another bout with the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury sidelined Cruz for the next two years.
It was during these two years that this writer truly gained respect for a man who did everything he could to get back on the field to compete with his brothers. The grueling rehab coupled with cries from his own fans to cut him from the team had to be mentally troubling as Cruz rallied against many of his own insecurities to make a comeback.
During this time, Cruz made the most of his time away from the field. He traveled, spent time with his daughter, pursued a lucrative side hustle in the fashion world, ran the Victor Cruz Foundation and mentored the Giants younger receivers throughout the season — namely one Odell Beckham Jr., a fiery breakout talent who dealt with his own rocky rise to fame. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
In 2016, after two years of rehab, Cruz would finally make his return on September 11 in the season opener against Dallas.
Lesson #3: Hunger Achieves Success, Not Luck
Success doesn't come to those who wait around hoping that it arrives hat-in-hand on their doorstep. Success is earned by those hungry enough to seek it.
After two years of torturous rehab, Cruz overcame the odds, again, to make the Giants' 53-man roster after taking a hefty pay cut, stating, "I couldn't go anywhere else."
Taking a pay cut may not look like success to most, but Cruz was hungry to return after putting in all of his hard work in rehab. Hunger is a powerful motivator. He believed in himself, put in the effort, continued to earn the trust of his colleagues and wanted to prove he could still achieve greatness.
At all costs, Cruz wanted to once again walk out onto that field as a New York Giant.
In that same season opener against Dallas on September 11, 2016, Cruz recorded the game-winning touchdown, performing his patented salsa celebration for the first time in two years. Chills reverberated throughout Giants fandom as the all-familiar “Cruuuuuz!” chants could be heard throughout AT&T Stadium, the moment that signified his return.
That season, Cruz would go on to contribute a handful of clutch plays throughout the Giants’ first playoff season since 2011 — Cruz’s breakout Super Bowl-winning season — and would finish with 39 receptions for 586 yards.
On February 13, 2017, the Giants released Victor Cruz, who had just turned 30 years old, as he was set to cost the Giants $9.4 million against the salary cap in 2017, even after his pay cut. In many cases, this would be a terrible way to conclude such a story. However, this story likely isn’t over.
Given Cruz and his knack for overcoming hardship, the Paterson native is sure to persevere and overcome this one as well. Whether he ends up playing for another team, pursuing his interests in fashion or flashing his potential as an NFL media personality, there are still plenty of lessons for Cruz to teach as his story continues on.
One thing that’s certain, Cruz will always be a Giant. As the organization touts, “Once a Giant, always a Giant." In fact, it’s possible Cruz even retires as a Giant much the same way Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora did after brief stints with other teams.
The bottom line is this: Cruz will persevere.
All told, one could argue that the words “Salsa” or “Giant” or maybe even “Paterson” might be better word associations used to describe Victor Cruz. However, this Paterson-born writer will stick with the notion that “Perseverance” is what led Cruz to become a Super Bowl-winning, salsa-dancing Giant from Paterson in the first place.
Good luck, Vic. Thanks for the memories.
This article also appeared on LinkedIn