Damon Harrison made a mock announcement to introduce the man who was walking to the podium at Giants practice on Thursday:
“Victor Cruz, ladies and gentlemen!”
The MetLife Stadium public address announcer will be announcing Cruz’s name for real on Saturday — after he catches a pass from Eli Manning against the Jets, the Giants hope.
The waiting is almost over for Cruz, who has been cleared to play in his first game since Oct. 12, 2014.
“I’m ready,” Cruz said. “Obviously, it’s been a long time coming. I had a good week of practice. Everything feels great, so I’m just excited to put that out there on the game field for the first time in a long time.”
It’ll actually be the second time the talented wide receiver suits up this preseason. Cruz dressed and went through pregame warmups before the last game against Buffalo. But he was not scheduled to play until he proved he was over the groin injury that knocked him out of practice on Aug. 9.
“I was happy to be out there with my teammates and having them cheer me on,” Cruz said. “It was like, ‘OK, one step closer, 80.’ Everyone just on my side and rooting for me was a great feeling. Just to be out there was the best part. Whether I was playing or not, going to be in that game or not, being out there going through the warmup with my team was definitely a step in the right direction.”
The bigger steps came this week in practice, most importantly a hard three-hour one on Tuesday.
“I think I proved a lot to myself on the practice field,” Cruz said. “Just being able to come out here and play, run routes and come out unscathed and feel good the next day. That’s what I really wanted to prove. Obviously, this game is more for me to get hit, have that opportunity to get that game rep, have those game-like actions with Eli, being on the same page, all those things that you look forward to as a player.
“Some of those moments and things that I wanted to see in myself, they were out there on that football field. Some of that quickness and some of that elusiveness that I felt was definitely out there. I just want to continue to build on that. Like I said, it’s one thing to do it one day, but to continue to do it every day and be consistent is what you want. I think I built a good foundation to continue to move in the right direction.”
Manning said he isn’t planning on forcing the ball early to Cruz and would rather see their connections come in the normal flow of the offense.
“I’m excited for him,” Manning said. “He’s a longtime teammate and friend. I know what he’s been through and I know it’s been a tough road these last two years. I know he wants to be out there, so I’m excited for him to have that possibility. Obviously it’s preseason. It would be nice to get him out there, but when it comes to the regular season to get him some action, some catches, a touchdown, that would be special.”
Preseason, regular season, whatever. Cruz is just thrilled he’ll be able to be out there.
“So many ups and downs that I had to face to get to this moment,” he said. “Now, I’m just ready to relax and go play some football again. To me, this game is bigger than just the game. Although it’s just a preseason game, for me mentally and emotionally [and] physically, it’s more than just a football game.”