Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Books | Sports

September 2, 2012

Victor Cruz's Super Story

Peter Schrager, who worked with the Giants receiver on his autobiography, said his young co-writer had a lot of life to recount.

Alex Eidman

Football announcers like to say that a team needs to have an identity, by which they mean a mysterious host of tangibles and intangibles that takes individual skill players and shapes them into a collective body. It's a readily available cliché for Jon Gruden to use by way of explaining a woeful team he sees making a mess on the field.

Peter Schrager
"He took a risk on me, a first-time author, like the Giants took a risk on him."

Peter Schrager

The Giants' identity in the age of Eli Manning has been highlighted by a unique brand of heart-wrenching schizophrenia. At times they wear a cloak of invincibility with stunning aerial passing and relentless defensive-line pressure. But their sudden spells of comprehensive ineptitude ensure fans rarely can leave MetLife Stadium feeling comfortable when the home team holds an early lead.

Last season, in a turnabout eerily reminiscent of their 2008 Super Bowl run, the Giants erased a mediocre first 16 games with incredible playoff performances against the Falcons, Packers and 49ers, capping it off with another wild win over the Patriots to become Super Bowl champions. Eli had the best season of his career, and found a new favorite big-play target: Victor Cruz.

Cruz first gave fans a glimpse of his talent with a three-touchdown game against the Jets in the 2010 preseason. But Cruz's season was cut short when the Giants mysteriously put him on injured reserve in October. Entering last season as the Giants' fourth receiver, Cruz shocked the league, gaining 1,536 yards and scoring nine touchdowns while making some of the more memorable plays in recent Giants history. Throughout the season, MetLife Stadium was treated regularly to deafening chants of "Cruuuuuuz." Rather than invent another mindless touchdown celebration, Cruz honored his Latin heritage with a mini-salsa. And he gave both himself and his team something of an identity even before they broke out of their regular-season funk in the playoffs.

Peter Schrager, a football writer for FoxSports.com, met and befriended Cruz in the offseason—then found himself helping Cruz to write his autobiography. He tells the story of a player and a person overcoming obstacles on his way to stardom in Out of the Blue.

In an interview with Gelf, conducted over email and edited for clarity, Schrager talks about how he got involved in writing the book, Cruz's relationship with Eli Manning, and what kind of dance instructor he is.

Gelf Magazine: How did you get started with the project? Did Victor approach you or was this something that you had an idea for?

Peter Schrager: Getting chosen to write this book with Victor was about as much of a long shot as Victor making the Giants 53-man roster two years ago. We had met, briefly, during the limited times I'd popped by Giants games for FoxSports.com last year. When he had his breakout 2011 season, I did a very small GQ sidebar on Arian Foster and him—two undrafted players—and where they were when they watched their respective NFL drafts. Sure enough, Cruz wins the Super Bowl, he gets a book deal, and they're looking for writers. We met and immediately hit it off. My mother's from his hometown of Paterson, we talked college hoops, and we're kinda sorta a part of the same generation. Or, at least I tell myself that. We really got along and I really wanted to tell his story. He sensed that. He took a risk on me, a first-time author, like the Giants took a risk on him.

Gelf Magazine: What about Victor's story in particular makes it a worthy one to tell?

Peter Schrager: Victor Cruz wasn't one of these kids born with a football in his crib, or a hot recruit who went to Alabama or Arkansas. He didn't play competitive football until he was 17 years old, wasn't recruited by any Division I teams, and went undrafted out of UMass. He ends up on the Giants, and works too hard, makes too many plays, to not make the team. Off the field, though, is what makes his story so unique.
His father showed up at his door when he was seven years old and basically said, "Hey, I'm your dad." Victor didn't shun him, turn him away, or resent him. He accepted him. He grew up with gang violence, drugs, and alcohol around his every move in a tough neighborhood. He failed the SATs five times before passing them and becoming academically eligible. His father committed suicide. His best friend died in a car accident. He was kicked out of UMass twice for bad grades. As recently as 2007, he was working at a suburban mall in New Jersey. Somehow, some way, he persevered. Coming into the project, I knew about the Salsa dance and the Super Bowl. Cruz is so much more.

Gelf Magazine: Did you spend a lot of time around the Giants locker room for the book? If so, did your opinion of NFL locker rooms change? Did you see or learn anything new in terms of how players interact with one another and with coaches?

Peter Schrager: No. We wrote the entire book over the offseason, so I spent much of my time in Victor's apartment in New Jersey or in his car. We played video games, we drove around Paterson, we ate Jersey pizza, and we talked about his life. It took a bit of time, but he eventually opened up about the dark periods. I listened and a trust was built.
I've been in NFL locker rooms for much of my professional career, and I'll be honest, it's a rare occasion where you get the one-on-one time or candid moment where a great quote is given in there. The locker room is great for game stuff—it's a buffet of personalities—but for a book or longer magazine profile, it's not the spot. Surprisingly enough, it's the time away from the field when you really get to know these guys. Unfortunately, getting that access is tough. And in many cases, writers don't care or want to even put themselves in that situation.
I did a piece on DeMarcus Ware for GQ this summer. We got brunch at the Soho Grand, walked around the West Village, and then he told me about his antique collection as he wandered the city streets anonymously. I got more out of Ware in that situation than I ever would in a locker room after a game or a practice. It's getting to that point with a guy where you really get to know him as a player, and really, as a man. When you do, you need to make the most of it.

Gelf Magazine: What was Victor's reaction to all the offseason conflicts between the NFL and the players? How are players alerted to breaking news?

Peter Schrager: Again, small sample size, but I was with Victor this offseason when the BountyGate suspensions were announced, when Tebow was traded to the Jets, when the Gregg Williams audio was released, and when Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos. In every instance, we found out the news from either Twitter or the ESPN bottom-line scroll. From what I gather, NFL players find out news like that in the exact same way we find it out as writers or fans. From ESPN. From Twitter. From friends texting us.

Gelf Magazine: What is Victor's rapport with Eli? How did the relationship progress as the season went on?

Peter Schrager: Vic loves Eli. They're not best friends or anything, but Eli Manning encouraged, worked with, and believed in Victor when there were very few who thought he could ever be as good as he is today. During the lockout last summer, Eli called Victor and asked him to come out and just play "pass and catch." While other QB-WR combos were doing whatever else players did in the lockout, Eli and Victor were working together. Day in, day out.
Victor told me, "Any interception Eli Manning throws is on the receiver." I was confused. He explained, "He's that good. Every single pass is thrown exactly where it's supposed to be." A good example of that would be the sideline pass Manning tossed to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Manning barely even looked and that pass was thrown exactly on target. When the NFL Network came out with its Top 100 players list this summer, Eli was ranked 31st. Victor laughed really hard at that one.

Gelf Magazine: Victor mentions dancing to Tito Puente with his grandmother when he was a kid. How good of a dancer is he? Did you pick up any moves?

Peter Schrager: We never danced together. That's the premise for our next book.

Alex Eidman

Alex is a graduate of McGill University and a contributor to http://www.jewcy.com.







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Article by Alex Eidman

Alex is a graduate of McGill University and a contributor to http://www.jewcy.com.

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