January 28, 2012 in Sports

Giants’ Cruz developed solid connection with Manning

Jeff Roberts The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
Associated Press photo

Victor Cruz set a Giants franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards this season.
(Full-size photo)

Super Bowl

Feb. 5: New England Patriots (15-3) vs. New York Giants (12-7) at Indianapolis, 3:20 p.m.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The phone call must have been a mistake.

Victor Cruz stared down at the screen, perplexed by the number that had popped up.

Eli Manning was calling.

Cruz still was a no-name kid from Paterson, N.J., in May, a New York Giants receiver who had one glorious night as a pro, torching the Jets in a 2010 preseason game before receding to the shadows of injured reserve a few weeks later. It couldn’t be for him.

But Manning was on the line, wanting to work out with the second-year receiver and a few others at Hoboken High School while the lockout dragged on.

“To be one of those guys he calls up and for me to make it there, it was huge for my confidence just to have him call my phone,” Cruz said. “I looked at it and I was like, ‘Eli Manning? Is this working?’ ”

Those workouts over a few weeks last spring were the beginning of Cruz’s emergence as an NFL star.

They set the foundation for the Giants’ transformation from a run-first offense to the dangerous passing attack that has led them to Super Bowl XLVI.

Manning and Cruz bonded in those workouts, building a rapport that has led to career seasons for both.

Cruz and Hakeem Nicks – who attended some Hoboken workouts, as well as others with Manning at Duke – would become the first pair of 1,000-yard receivers in one season in Giants history.

Cruz improved his route running, his reads and decision-making, Manning said, and they discussed offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s complex playbook.

A few months later, the Giants began training camp with question marks at receiver. But it might be no coincidence that eight months after those workouts in Hoboken – where Manning lives – they will face Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Manning threw for a franchise-record 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns. Cruz seemed to come out of nowhere, recording 82 catches, nine touchdowns and a franchise-record 1,536 yards.

“He’s a guy who’s had a great season,” Manning said of Cruz. “I would like to think that work paid off and we got better.”

Cruz completely won over Manning in the Giants’ Week 3 upset of the Eagles, when he caught three passes – two for touchdowns – for 110 yards.

“The next game he was looking for me a little bit more,” Cruz said. “And just throughout the games after that, he was just looking for me, understanding that I can do some really good things to get open.”

And knowing that, Cruz felt as if Manning was “in my corner.”

“It raised my confidence sky-high, man, just to understand that a guy like that really believed in my talent and believed that when I get the ball in my hands, I can do some really positive things,” Cruz said.

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