INDIANAPOLIS — Move over salsa-specialist Victor Cruz. Aaron Hernandez may need room to show his merengue moves in the end zone.
The dueling dancers are practicing the steps that they hope will lead to touchdowns at the Super Bowl and give the NFL showcase the look of a hard-hitting episode of Dancing With the (Football) Stars.
The versatile Hernandez has twisted his way downfield for the New England Patriots — changing direction after making catches and swerving by frustrated pursuers on a 43-yard run playoff run from the backfield against Denver. Now he's heard suggestions that he break out the salsa should he score a touchdown on Sunday, just as Cruz does with the New York Giants.
"They told me to do the salsa and I was joking around, saying maybe I'll do the merengue," a smiling Hernandez said Thursday, three days before the Super Bowl. "But that's his style and I respect him doing that and that's also a shoutout to the Hispanic community.
"But he's a good player and, hopefully, he doesn't get too many salsa dances this week."
Cruz sidesteps the idea of a Sunday Night Fever dance-off with Hernandez.
"I just want to get in the end zone and win this football game," he said.
Hernandez is used to playing second fiddle as "the other" tight end in the Patriots dynamic combo.
Rob Gronkowski's left ankle has been in the spotlight ever since the All-Pro sprained it Jan. 22 in the AFC championship game. Before that, Gronkowski's big hands that rarely drop a football drew the attention. He set an NFL single-season record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches, usually followed by a powerful spike.
"I'm sure he'll be fine" for the game, Hernandez said. "Everyone knows he's a beast and he'll definitely be a huge impact in this game."
Hernandez, faster and shiftier than the bulldozing Gronkowski, had a pretty good season, too. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. But he doesn't mind getting less attention.
"I've never been that type of person and the way our relationship is, we're so close that we don't even think about it like that," Hernandez said. "I'm not a huge media guy, as you know, so he can have all the media he wants. You can talk to him and I know he loves it."
There are other differences.
Tight ends coach Brian Ferentz said Hernandez can be stubborn and moody, while "it's hard to get Rob out of a good mood." But both are very coachable.
"Sometimes Aaron knows he made a mistake," Ferentz said. "He doesn't always like to get coached on it, but I can relate to that because nobody likes being wrong."
Gronkowski is unflappable.
"You can get on Gronk pretty hard. I'm not sure Gronk's hearing you most of the time. He's just kind of in his own world. I don't mean that in a bad way," Ferentz said. "But nothing fazes him."
Several nicknames have been suggested for the duo — The Boston TE Party, Quake and Shake. Hernandez has no preference, but nicknames are "kind of cool," he said. "It brings a little, I don't know, swagger to it."
Soon they could be called Super Bowl champions.
That would be quite an honor for the star from Bristol, Conn., who competed with Gronkowski for the top national rating among tight ends during high school and college. They finally met at the pre-draft scouting combine in Indianapolis in 2010. They were reunited as teammates on the Patriots.
"I didn't know if I was supposed to be his friend because I'm competing against him," Hernandez said. "Should I talk to him? Should I not talk to him? Once I realized we both have outgoing personalities and we both have a good sense of humor, we actually bonded pretty well."
Personal connections are important to Hernandez, whether with friends or family. He's also proud of the Hispanic culture he was immersed in at home.Comment on this story
"The music has all got the same beat. I used to get sick of it because my father and them used to play it so much," Hernandez said. "All the Spanish parties, they would be playing the congas and everything."
Now he's sick of all the waiting, eager to get the big game started.
The Patriots prepared in Foxborough, Mass., for a week. Then they arrived Sunday night in Indianapolis where they've mixed meetings, film sessions and practices with daily media sessions. No word, though, about dance lessons.
"It's a dream come true and it should be a dream come true for everybody who's playing in this game," Hernandez said. "I've been ready to play since they told us we're playing in the Super Bowl."