Victor Cruz has had his share of rivalries with opponents. Carlos Rodgers, Orlando Scandrick and Ike Taylor were just a few of the defensive backs he has crossed swords against.
“We always came up to each other after the game and shook hands,” Cruz said. “It was a good battle and something we wanted to continue year in and year out, to do battle and have respect for each other.”
He’s also been in the league long enough to have seen other such competitive relationships throughout the years on other teams with other players.
“But,” Cruz said, “nothing like this, nothing back and forth like this.”
That’s the backdrop for Sunday’s game which is technically the Giants against Washington but in just about everyone’s mind will be Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Josh Norman. The two players have not met on the field since their duel turned ugly in December when Norman was a member of the Panthers, but they have exchanged heated and even sometimes threatening comments at each other through the media since then.
Now, with the two players headed for the NFL’s version of Ali-Frazier II, all eyes will be on them and their matchup on the field.
Many believe those rubber-necking gawkers will be disappointed.
“I don’t think anything’s going to happen, to be honest with you,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I think both players know the importance of their roles to their football team. I know Odell does, and I know Josh does. So I really think that thing was a one-time thing. If it happens again, I’d be surprised.”
“I think they put on a great show,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “You have two outstanding competitors at the top of their game. Two premier players in this league. I think they put on a great show for everyone.”
McAdoo was quick to add: “It was not a great show last year.”
For their parts, both Beckham and Norman played nicely when addressing the media on Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward to playing the New York Giants, man,” Norman said. “I’m focused on winning, nothing more, nothing less.”
Beckham spoke about how he has matured and learned from last year’s game that turned into a rumble and led to his one-week suspension.
“You take the good and the bad and you learn from it,” Beckham said. “That’s how you grow, that’s how you improve yourself as an individual and as a human being. You take the life lessons and you learn from it.”
He said he expects Norman and the other Washington defenders will try to get into his head, as the Panthers did last year.
“I would do the same,” he said. “It’s what you do. It’s mental warfare, it’s the Art of War.”
But he insisted he would not take the bait the way he did last year.
“I think from a mental standpoint he’s in a completely different place than he was a year ago,” Cruz said. “I think he understands what’s being asked of him and how to conduct himself on the field and understands that it’s just business. We’re out there to win a game and we’re onto the next one . . . It’s about the team game.”
So much of Beckham’s success is built on him being a fiery, emotional player. Curtailing that could be detrimental to his production. Over-inflating it like a balloon, though, could make him pop at any moment, which is what happened last year. Keeping Beckham in balance is one of the biggest objectives the Giants have for the next decade, nevermind the next four days.
“You ever watch Russell Westbrook play basketball?” Beckham asked reporters. “He plays with a lot of emotion or passion, whatever you want to call it. It’s what is best for some players, it’s what is not best for other players. You use it and you just be smart. You play smart. It’s football at the end of the day.”
He said all the right things, but he said the right things last year before the Panthers game too.
On Sunday, he’ll have to prove he’s truly learned the lesson and isn’t just reciting it.