Cruz will never forget his late father
INDIANAPOLIS -- Sometime before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI, Victor Cruz will walk quietly to the end zone, drop to his knees and begin talking to his dead father.
Before the biggest game of his life, the Giants receiver will do what he has done before every game this season. He will offer a tribute to the man who taught him how to play the game, a man who he believes is still out there watching over him even though he has been gone for almost five years.
"I think about him all the time," Cruz said Wednesday of his father, Mike Walker. "He would have loved all of this."
All of this is part of Cruz's storybook run from undrafted wide receiver to a starter for the Giants in Sunday's game against the Patriots. Walker, a former Paterson, N.J., firefighter, was Cruz's No. 1 fan, his biggest crusader. And if there is one cruel twist to Cruz's rags-to-riches story, it's that his father isn't there to enjoy it with him.
Cruz has talked about how he was at home in Paterson in spring 2007 when he received a call from his brother saying his father, who had been injured in a car accident and was depressed, had committed suicide. The news devastated him, those who know him well say.
"It wasn't easy for Vic. His father was a good guy," Benjamin Wimberlie, Cruz's high school coach at Paterson Catholic, said in a recent interview with Newsday. "That's an incredible challenge for a young guy to face."
Cruz, said Wimberlie, always has been a very positive person. And with some distance from his loss, Cruz talked Wednesday about what his father meant to him in life.
"My dad is my hero," Cruz said. "He taught me how to become a man. And how to play the game."
Walker apparently taught him well. During the last four months, Cruz has gone from a player who was just happy to make the Giants' 53-man roster to one of the most explosive receivers in the game.
Cruz, whose salsa-dancing touchdown celebration has made him a fan favorite, has been greeted by a chorus of "Cr-u-u-u-z" wherever he goes this week in Indianapolis. And a dozen Spanish-speaking journalists -- Cruz's mother, Blanca Cruz, is Puerto Rican -- have attended every one of his news conferences.
No one would have enjoyed the scene in Indianapolis more than Walker, who used to get so excited at youth football games that he would run out onto the field to hug his son.
"I think he would have gotten here on Monday before the team and would be going crazy," Cruz said with a laugh. "He was a great guy and passionate about his sons and daughters."
And so before the biggest game of his life, Cruz once again will summon the spirit of that passionate man.
"I will take a knee and pray to him and talk to him and just kind of have a conversation," Cruz said. "I'm just going to ask him to guide me out there and watch over me. I understand that he's out there with me. Always."