Long before kickoff of Thursday night’s Giants-Eagles game, Victor Cruz will walk by himself to the spot that changed his life the night of Oct. 12, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field.
“That right corner of the end zone was a place where it kind of all re-started for me,” Cruz said Tuesday. “Obviously, it will bring back some emotion and some memories, both good and bad.”
Cruz went up for what would have been a touchdown catch in a Sunday night game against the Eagles, but landed awkwardly on his right leg and suffered what had been feared to be a career-ending knee injury.
“Pain, a lot of pain,” Cruz said as he reflected on the moment. “Just that initial pain in the end zone, feeling a pain you’ve never felt before and mentally having to deal with that in that moment.”
It would be a torturous rehabilitation process for Cruz, who underwent reconstructive surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon and other damage to the knee. He made it back the following year and seemed healthy during the early part of training camp. But he never even got to play in a preseason game because of a calf injury he suffered in the same leg. Cruz would miss the entire season, eventually having to undergo surgery to repair the calf problem.
He did make it all the way back this season, and despite missing some time during training camp with a groin injury, Cruz hasn’t missed any time. And now, for what could be the most significant emotional moment in his comeback. It is there, at the scene of the injury, when he will search for a moment of closure.
“Just to kind of reflect on that moment, reflect on that time, reflect on that feeling,” he said, “and then kind of wash my hands of it and then start to play.”
Odell Beckham Jr. was just a few steps away from Cruz when the injury happened, and he could hear his teammate screaming as he writhed in pain on the field. It was one of the few times the two actually had a chance to play together, since Beckham, then a rookie, had only played his first NFL game the week before after recovering from a preseason hamstring injury. Beckham has since emerged into a star, but remains close with Cruz and knows how important this night will be for his 30-year-old teammate.
“I think I’m more excited to have Vic returning to Philly,” Beckham said. “I think there will be huge stuff in store for him. I think this will probably be the biggest game he’s had all year, with everything going into play with what happened.”
Cruz joins a Giants team that can clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2011, when it was Cruz sparking what turned out to be a Super Bowl championship run. He was at his peak back then — remember that 99-yard touchdown play against the Jets in the next-to-last game of the regular season, the play that proved to be a launchpad for a title chase?
He is a different player today, one with more muted production than the time when he was the Giants’ leading receiver. He has just 29 catches for 495 yards and a touchdown — the game-winner in a Week 1 win at Dallas — and doesn’t have a 100-yard receiving game this season. With rookie Sterling Shepard replacing Cruz as the Giants’ primary slot receiver, Cruz is somewhat out of position as an outside receiver and could be in his final days with the Giants. But if this does turn out to be the end of his run with the team he made as a free agent walk-on in 2010, then there is no better finish than the one he’s living. To catch some passes and beat the Eagles to clinch a playoff spot? Perfect.
“Just to fight to get over that hump and through that game and play well and hopefully catch a couple of balls and get into the end zone one time in that game would be icing on the cake in a year that has been so fruitful for me,” he said. “Just to come back and play on a team that’s got 10 wins and carry on destiny in the playoffs. It’s a moment you want to be great, and you want to be a part of. I’m just happy that this year for me, individually as well as what this team has done, has been a dream come true.”