Victor Cruz wore long white tube socks to practice Thursday, and he told rookie receiver Sterling Shepard that he was rocking his Keith Van Horn look.
Shepard had never heard of the former NBA player.
“No clue,” Cruz said, shaking his head at the lack of respect for basketball fashion history.
That’s one of the perils of being a 30-year-old player in the NFL. Some of the references fall into the generation gap.
The other peril is a bit more obvious, as it was Monday night, when Cruz missed his first game this season with an ankle injury. The limb twists take a little bit longer to overcome, the aches linger more, and the team wants to manage a player’s exposure to help ensure that he’ll be available down the road.
Cruz accepted that more calmly than Shepard’s ignorance of Van Horn. “It will probably work out for the better in the long run,” he said.
But he expects that it won’t be the case this week. The socks may have been a topic of conversation, but the real pressing matter was that Cruz was on the field to wear them. He was listed as a limited participant in the workout, but he did everything the Giants asked him to do and seems to be on a path to return to action against the Bears.
“Everything is feeling good,” Cruz said. “Sunday at 1 o’clock I plan on being out there helping my team win.”
It was Cruz’s first practice since spraining his ankle in the first half Nov. 6 against the Eagles.
“Victor played well,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said after practice. “We’re excited to see how he progresses.”
The Giants won without Cruz, beating the Bengals, 21-20, but it was very clear how much Cruz was missed on the field. Rookie Roger Lewis Jr. struggled, dropping one pass and running the wrong route on another. Tavarres King also played in that spot a bit and caught one pass.
Getting Cruz back should add poise and composure to an offense that had to start two rookies at wide receiver — Lewis and second-round pick Shepard — for the first time since the 1984 regular-season finale (Bobby Johnson and Lionel Manuel started against the Saints that day).
Cruz brings a lot of wisdom and experience to the offense in general and the receivers specifically. This week he’s been exhibiting that guidance. He spoke to Lewis about his poor performance. “Take a deep breath,” Cruz said he told him. “You’re going to have ups and downs in this league. I’ve been through it. It happens.”
He also has spoken to other teammates about dealing with their success.
“Seeing the best of the best and the worst of the worst,” Cruz said, “you have to remind everybody to continue to keep it one week at a time and continue to keep your eyes on the prize and not get comfortable and complacent with wherever we are in the season.”
That’s something Cruz won’t do himself. After missing almost two years, and now missing one game, he knows how rare these times can be. He’s cherishing them. He won a Super Bowl in his first full season in the NFL and hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. Now time is running out on a return trip.
“We do feel like this team is a special team,” he said, “and we want to make sure we do what we need to do to continue that trend.”
Cruz plans on doing his part, on the field and off, passing along a little knowledge wherever he can, whether it’s about football or even Keith Van Horn.
He knows that one day, maybe one day soon, he’ll be an old-school reference that goes over the heads of young players.
“Good thing I’m still out here, out and about, for (Shepard) to know who I am,” Cruz said with a smile.