Victor Cruz can't help but smile when he sees Mike Sullivan back on the Giants practice field.
Sullivan, says Cruz, is one of those special guys, a coach who has a unique read on this Giants team and what it takes to get them to be their best. Sullivan, who was brought back as the Giants quarterbacks coach for this season, was an integral part of the Giants' last two Super Bowl runs. He was the wide receivers coach from 2004-09 and the quarterbacks coach from 2010-11.
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In 2011, when Cruz was a rookie, it was Sullivan who convinced him to do his now famous salsa dance in the end zone after a touchdown catch.StoryFor Giants, it's playoffs or bustVotePick 'em: Giants 2016 schedule
"It was Game 3 and I was getting my first start," Cruz recalled recently. "He was the quarterbacks coach. He's half Mexican and he came up to me and said, 'You have to represent. You have to do something to represent your people if you get in the end zone.' And that's when he told me to do the salsa.
"He kept after me, so I told him OK just to get him off my back. It just so happens after my very first catch, I'm going up the sideline and I'm at the 1-yard line. All of a sudden, I think to myself 'I have to do this dance now.' I did it. And the rest is history."
That isn't the only Giants tradition that Sullivan had a big hand in. He also was the man who introduced Greg Gadson, a retired colonel in the United States Army who lost both legs in Iraq, to the team in 2007. Gadson has since become one of the Giants' most well-known and inspirational fans.
Eli Manning had some of his most productive years when Sullivan was in charge of the quarterbacks in 2010 and 2011. Manning completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 8,935 yards, 60 touchdowns, 41 interceptions and a passer rating of 89.1. He had career-high totals of 31 touchdown passes in 2010 and 4,933 yards the following season, when the Giants won their second Super Bowl with Manning as quarterback.
It was that performance in the run to the Super Bowl that landed Sullivan a job as offensive coordinator with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sullivan spent 2012 and 2013 with the team during the tumultuous tenure of former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. It was a humbling experience. After a solid first season in which the Buccaneers finished 7-9 with the NFL's ninth-ranked offense, everything seemed to explode at once. Quarterback Josh Freeman feuded with Schiano and was benched after an 0-3 start and the Bucs finished 4-12 in 2013 with the worst offense in football.
Sullivan was fired and spent last season out of organized football, working as a consultant with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to get him ready for the draft.
Sullivan, a positive, glass-is-half-full sort of guy, called the break a blessing in disguise as he got to spend some quality time with his family and helped his oldest daughter, 12-year-old Carmen, qualify for the Junior Olympics in track and field.
Sullivan said he also learned about himself as a coach in his year away.
"It gave me a chance really to take a step back and without all the pressure, to see the games, it is just amazing," he said. "When you take that vantage point, you can see some of the mistakes that are made and of course you fill the spiral notebook with ideas and it is not necessarily X's and O's as much as just ideas and thoughts of how you can be better prepared should you get another opportunity."
When Coughlin called Sullivan about their quarterbacks opening, he leaped at the chance. In some ways, there's been a lot of new things for him to absorb. This is the second year in Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense, and Sullivan has had to hit the film room hard to absorb all the new principles.
"It has been exhilarating," Sullivan said. "I just can't say enough about working with Ben McAdoo, what a detail-oriented, great teacher, very comfortable relationship and it is exciting. There are so many concepts about this scheme and I think Eli has really bought in and it has been a lot of fun to work with him."
Of course, one thing hasn't changed. And that's Sullivan's knowledge of key offensive players and his relationships. Manning and Sullivan know each other well and have a unique sort of relationship that involves a fearless give-and-take in meetings.
"I have a lot of great communication, great respect for him," Manning said. "It's a little different now, he kind of came in the spring where I maybe knew a little bit more than he did at the time with the new offense. But now he's caught up. I'm asking him questions and he's asking us questions, we're getting on the same page. We're still kind of referring to coach McAdoo on some things. But he's great in the film room, getting us to think, getting us to answer questions, think on our toes, go through reads, verbally communicate what we're trying to do, and getting us on the same page."
As for Cruz, he's thrilled to have the man who launched the salsa back on the practice field.
"I missed his energy. He has this energy about him that never falters," Cruz said. "That's what you want from your coaching staff. Guys who believe in you and believe in your team."