Hola amigos: My husband is a football fan and he is from NY so… Here you have one of our own, Victor Cruz, doing great in football as a Giants receiver. Cruz has performed his end zone dance four times this season. Not bad, kid. Keep it up! ES
Giants Receiver Victor Cruz Image
Patrick Mcdermott/Getty Image
By SAM BORDEN
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Victor Cruz scored his first regular-season N.F.L. touchdown Sept. 25, he immediately broke intoa salsa dance in the end zone. It was meant as a tribute to his grandmother, who used to make him glide around the house with her when he was a child, but it became a point of pride for many Hispanics.
That night, when Carolina Coach Ron Rivera saw the dance on television, he said he smiled as two thoughts popped into his mind.
“For one, I wish I had his rhythm,” Rivera said. “And two, it’s nice to see something like that since there aren’t a whole lot of us out there on the field.”
A former linebacker, Rivera was the first player of Puerto Rican heritage to play in the N.F.L. when Chicago drafted him in 1984, and he won a Super Bowl with the Bears in 1985. Now, Rivera said, he always notices players with Hispanic-sounding names, and was pleased to learn that Cruz also has Puerto Rican heritage. When the Giants face New England on Sunday, another player of Puerto Rican descent, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, will be on the field.
“People are starting to pay attention,” Rivera said in a telephone interview last week. “Football is slowly becoming more and more a part of that consciousness.”
Rivera, Cruz and Hernandez were all quick to say that football still had a long way to go in matching baseball and basketball in popularity among Puerto Ricans. And David Bernier, president of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee and former secretary of sport and recreation on the island, said football there “remains a niche sport with pockets of fans.” But the emergence of young, energetic playmakers like Cruz — particularly because he plays in a market with a concentration of Puerto Ricans — can only help.
Cruz, who describes himself as half Puerto Rican and half black, grew up in Paterson, N.J., a city with a large Hispanic population, though Cruz was one of the few Spanish-speaking players on his Paterson Catholic High School team. (“I think the kicker was like the only other one,” he said.) Still, he never second-guessed his decision to focus on the sport.
“Football was what I was good at, and it was what I loved,” he said.
Cruz, who played at the University of Massachusetts, signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and caught three touchdown passes in a preseason game against the Jets. That was his only claim to fame because a hamstring injury cut short his season after three games.
Cruz began this season competing for playing time but seized opportunities presented by teammates’ injuries to become an important part of the Giants’ offense. Through seven games, Cruz has caught 28 passes for 497 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has also showed a knack for making crucial plays, as he did last Sunday against Miami when he caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to provide the game’s decisive points.
Cruz then performed his salsa dance, a routine he never imagined would take off the way it has. The origins were mostly circumstantial — a coach suggested he do it shortly after President Obama declared Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month — but after spending much of his youth stepping around the kitchen with his grandmother, Lucy Molina, Cruz was glad to oblige. He did not necessarily expect it to stick.
Now, though, the dance has become part of his fast-growing image. The Giants have seen a marked increase in news media credential requests from Spanish-language outlets since Cruz’s emergence, and fans continually stop Cruz to ask him about the dance.
Raymond Santiago, a producer on the sports-talk radio station ESPN New York 1050, said he had seen frequent Twitter updates from fans saying they were planning to buy Cruz jerseys, including one who said he was going to put “Cruuuuuuz” on the back because that is what fans cheer when he catches a pass.
Although other Puerto Ricans have played in the N.F.L. (including O. J. Santiago andMarco Rivera), Raymond Santiago said he believed Cruz’s playing in the New York market had contributed to his popularity.
“It is definitely a factor,” Raymond Santiago, who is half Puerto Rican and half Dominican, said. “I think the dance plays a huge part in it, too. People saw that on the news and were like, ‘What was that?’ ”
He added, “Every time the guy scores a touchdown, my Twitter time line blows up.”
Hernandez, who has caught 74 passes for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns since joining the Patriots last season, celebrates more modestly when he reaches the end zone and said he did not know about Cruz’s dance moves.
“That sounds pretty good,” Hernandez said in a telephone interview. “I’m sure I could do some kind of salsa dance.”
Although the dance has attracted much of the attention, Cruz said he is mindful of the larger message. First, he said, he gets to dance only if he gets into the end zone, and his focus remains establishing himself as a consistent part of the Giants’ passing game.
Only if he does that will the dance have any meaning. Football is still a fledgling concept in Puerto Rico, where, as Bernier said, “the common person doesn’t follow it and wouldn’t know” Cruz or Hernandez if he was walking down the street. Cruz, mindful of the fickle nature of N.F.L. fame, would like to see that change. He visited the island in May, he said, and with extended family in several cities, he hopes to return soon.
“The dance is one thing, and it’s great,” Cruz said. “But football should be a global game. I’d like to see some more camps down there, some more kids playing. If I have an opportunity to help make that happen, I definitely want to take advantage of it.”
The Giants will be without three starters Sunday as running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and center David Baas (knee) did not travel with the team after being ruled out of action for the game. Receiver Ramses Barden was activated from the physically unable to perform list and could make his season debut.
Jorge Castillo contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on November 6, 2011, on page SP2 of the New York edition with the headline: Giants Receiver Mixes Cultures and Scores Touchdowns.