New York Giants' Victor Cruz dances into pre-Super Bowl spotlight
"I still remember it like it was yesterday," he said last week. "I remember warming up before the game and being really, really nervous, having a lot of butterflies. I was a rookie then, so I had to wait until the second half to get into the game. It was just anxiety and I'm waiting patiently. There were a lot of thoughts running through my head. I just wanted to get out there.
"Once I got out there, I just let myself go and let myself play the game."
Having a flair for the theatrical is nothing new for Cruz, who spent much of his time on basketball courts during his teens, honing an elusive crossover dribble that's the stuff of legend in Paterson.
"That was his signature move," said Jimmy Salmon, his godfather and AAU basketball coach. "He was dunking early too, in ninth grade. He's got baseball gloves for hands; I always joked with him about that."
Cruz's mother relied on Salmon and others to lean on her son when his focus would start to wane. Cruz wasn't a particularly serious student, and at least once was sent home from college because of poor grades.
"Vic's always gotten over because of his smile," Salmon said. "Adventurous to a fault. He always liked being where the action is, and as a teenager sometimes that's not a great thing. He was the life of the party."
Some distractions were far more troubling. Four years ago, Cruz's father, Michael Walker, a firefighter in Paterson, died of an apparent suicide. Father and son were close, even though Cruz also had other male figures he turned to for guidance.
Cruz and his family have had their share of joyous moments too. On Jan. 9, his longtime girlfriend, Elaina Watley, gave birth to their daughter, Kennedy.
Asked about being a new dad, Cruz positioned his arms as if protectively cradling a football and told reporters: "Turns out I'm a natural. My hands are so big, she just fits right in."
Even though Cruz gets the superstar treatment in Manhattan, he's just Vic in Paterson, the smiling kid it seems everyone knew, the guy people still see when he's stopping by to visit his mom at her apartment, or in the supermarket or the dry cleaners.
"It means a lot to have a guy that walked the same streets they walk, went to the same schools they went to, to understand that if he can do it anybody can," he said. "It's definitely a testament to where I've come from. Hopefully, they can look up to me as a role model."
At Mr. G's, a popular diner in Paterson, regular customers gather each morning and talk politics, talk sports and, naturally, swap stories about the local kid who has taken the Super Bowl by storm.
"Some people look down their nose at this town," said Roy Jones, who sidled up to the breakfast bar at Mr. G's. "But he shows that something good can come out of Paterson."
And if Cruz has the occasion to salsa at the Super Bowl?
"This place will go nuts," Jones said. "He's a homeboy. Any time you have a homeboy like that, you can't be anything but proud."
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