MIAMI BEACH — Victor Cruz reacted like a lot of Giants’ fans when he heard the news about the team’s decision to hire 38-year-old Joe Judge as head coach.
“I’m not going to lie. At first, I was scratching my head,” the former Giants receiver told Newsday on Wednesday at Radio Row at the Super Bowl media center.
He became convinced — actually, Judge himself convinced Cruz — that the Giants found the right guy.
“After watching his [introductory] press conference, I get it,” Cruz said. “You can tell he understands the Giants’ culture, he understands exactly what’s being asked of him as a coach, and what he needs to bring to the table to get guys going.”
Cruz believes Judge, the former Patriots special teams coach under Bill Belichick and a former assistant under Alabama coach Nick Saban, will be good for the Giants’ young roster.
“I think that’s important for the Giants to have right now, is a guy that’s stern and stoic and strong in his opinions and what he wants to bring to the team,” Cruz said. “I think that’s great for all those young players.”
Cruz once was one of the Giants’ young players, having made the team as a free agent out of the University of Massachusetts in 2010. That team was coached by another strong-willed leader in Tom Coughlin. A year after Cruz was drafted, he blossomed into the team’s leading receiver with 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, including a 99-yard touchdown after catching a short pass from Eli Manning in a critical late-season win over the Jets. The Giants clinched the NFC East a week later with a win over the Cowboys and went on to win Super Bowl XLVI, beating the Patriots for a second time in the title game. Judge joined the Patriots a year later.
Cruz had 21 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ playoff run, as he helped Eli Manning win his second Super Bowl MVP.
Manning retired last week after a 16-year career.
“Eli sent us a small group text telling us he was going to hang 'em up,” Cruz said. “I love the guy to pieces. He’s just a guy that embodied everything you want in your quarterback: humility, a guy that never pointed the finger at anybody else, always took it on his shoulders — win, lose or draw — a guy who always held himself accountable for his teammates.”
In short, a perfect leader.
“That’s what you want out of your quarterback,” Cruz said. “That’s what you want out of the leader of your football team. Everybody just followed suit.”