When you think of two guys in two major pro sports who came out of nowhere to captivate the most finicky New York fans and live as sports gods in the largest market on the planet, as Luther Vandross would say on Valentine's Day, even if “Only for one night, ” Jeremy's Linsanity comes to mind with the Knicks and Victor Cruz’s meteoric rise to a top NFL receiver during the Giant’s last Super Bowl run, a 21-17 upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
In addition to their unexpected All-star play, both players captivated a cultural segment of that particular sports' culture that is rarely celebrated or known to produce superstars. Lin rocked out for the Asian community. Never before had an Asian NBA star, from Harvard no less, connected with the New York market. His presence alone, in a few games span, changed the ethnic complexion of Madison Square Garden and created a national youth movement of Asian basketball players of all ages.
In a sport with a dearth of Hispanic superheroes, Cruz was the most famous of them all. Cruz’s famous salsa dance celebration after scoring a TD, shed light on the Hispanic community who always loved football, but never truly had a Hispanic star connect with them on such a level, especially through dance, which is one of the most influential, purest and consistent aspects of their multi-faceted culture.
Giants fans remember Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2011 like it was yesterday. It was the evening that a .500 Giants team in need of a desperate boost if they hoped to make the playoffs, received one from an unlikely source.
They were trailing the Jets in the second quarter when unheralded receiver Victor Cruz caught a short pass near his goal line. Then Cruz broke the necklace on two defenders within arms grasp of him and hit the sidelines like he stole something, leaping over another tackler on his way to a season-changing, record-tying, 99-yard touchdown reception.
Then he unleashed the salsa dance for the first time and that was the birth of Victor Cruz, a kid who grew up 10 miles from that showdown in Jersey and was as long a shot as anyone to make it to the big show.
He also understood that he was a role model and therefore had a responsibility to his people. He embraced that.
"It's embedded in me," Cruz said back in 2015. "From the food that I eat, to the way I carry myself to the way I speak Spanish. The pride that I have in it is indicative everywhere you go, most importantly on the field, which is where you see it."
An undrafted free agent out of UMass, Cruz was one of the few players to be re-signed by the team in the Jerry Reese era. His five-year, $45 million extension signed back in 2013 was a big-time payday for a Giants franchise that historically practices frugality.
Cruz went on to grab 92 passes for 1,536 yards and 11 TDs that magical 2011 season. He became an instant New York celebrity and eventually an international hero, before injuries, starting with a torn patella tendon in 2014, hindered what should have been an illustrious career.
The Giants released Cruz after seven seasons on Monday. Cruz departs from New York 10th on the franchise's all-time receiving yards list with 4,549 yards and is 17th in touchdowns, with 25.
"Victor is one of the great stories of the National Football League," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said in a statement. "He came in here and earned everything that he's gotten. It has been amazing to see him grow from an undrafted free agent to a Pro Bowl player and one of our go-to guys during the Super Bowl XLVI run. He will always be one of the great Giants."
Knicks fans don’t admit it, but they miss that euphoric Linsanity phase. And Giants fans will miss Cruz and his Salsa flow. There will definitely be a cultural and historical loss of energy at Giants Stadium without Cruz in 2017.