Beat goes on as Victor Cruz returns to site of breakout dance

Victor Cruz celebrates a touchdown with his signature Victor Cruz celebrates a touchdown with his signature salsa dance during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

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The salsa dance was born in Cuba, refined in the dance halls of New York City, and brought to its most recent incarnation in . . . the south end zone at Lincoln Financial Field.

That's where a player few had ever heard of scored the first touchdown of his career and started shimmying his hips to an imagined Latin beat in honor of his grandmother. It's where Victor Cruz made his first impact in a regular-season game, made his first start, danced his first two salsas.

And it's where he'll return on Sunday night for the first time since that breakout performance that catapulted him to stardom in the NFL and beyond.

"It was kind of the first game where I got a chance to start and got an opportunity and I made the best of it," Cruz recalled Wednesday. "It's kind of where the Victor Cruz story originated."

He was such an unknown then, filling in for injured Mario Manningham. Michael Vick was asked if, after that game, the team was asking each other: Who was that guy?

"During the game, not after," Vick chuckled. "Victor Cruz came on the scene and unfortunately it was against us where he kind of made his name in the NFL. That's what guys do. They seize the moment, they seize the opportunity. He's turned out to be a fine football player."

The Eagles' quarterback wasn't the only one who came away impressed that day. The Giants' quarterback had a similar reaction.

"I just saw the playmaking ability and going up to get balls, breaking tackles," Eli Manning said. "Just having the ability to say: 'Hey, we have to give this guy the opportunity to get the ball in his hands. He can make guys miss, and make some big plays for us.' "

He continued to do so throughout the rest of the season. In 2012, even without the element of surprise, Cruz has still managed to produce. The Panthers tried to lock him up with double teams last Thursday -- mostly because Hakeem Nicks was out of the game -- and he had six catches for 42 yards.

"It's not very fun obviously," Cruz said of all the defensive attention. "I guess at this point in my career that kind of comes with the territory."

It may not come on Sunday. First of all, Nicks should be playing. Second of all, the Eagles play a lot differently than the Panthers did. Their corners are more physical, not giving the cushions the Panthers gave, and their pass defense is the third-best in the NFL. They have given up nine passing plays of 20 yards or more, though.

"You can see there are opportunities there, as with every defense, to get open and to get the football and things of that nature," Cruz said. "Hopefully we can attack those same points and see if we're successful."

Cruz was the last time he visited the Eagles, a game that gave him a foothold in the Giants' offense and made him the closest thing to an instant celebrity that the NFL can produce.

"That was the first salsa, yes," Cruz said. "There's been a lot of salsas since then. It's good to go back to where it started and hopefully there will be another one."

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