Long suffering New York Giants fans are marking an auspicious anniversary. This February will be 10 years since the Giants beat the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI .
The former star wide receiver Victor Cruz helped lead the Giants to victory, catching four balls for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, the team has been unable to win a playoff game. In an exclusive interview, Cruz told Yahoo Finance Live that the team needs to first “get healthy” after a number of players were sidelined with injuries.
“That's the biggest thing that's plagued us all year long,” he said. “So, it's just been a tough season to watch, and I think they have to figure out how to finish the season on a bright note and then go on to the off-season with what I believe will be some major changes to that football team.”
He also acknowledged that playing professional sports during a pandemic is a major challenge. While more than 94% of NFL players are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are some holdouts, including players who have misled their teams about their vaccination status.
“It's just, you know, it's a tough place to be as an athlete right now in the NFL" said Cruz. "I'm vaccinated but I honestly, you know, if I was in the NFL, it'd be tough just even navigating it. There's a lot at stake here. In football, every week counts, every game matters, every paycheck depends on every week that you perform out there, and if something like a vaccination is setting you back it can hurt yourself, you can hurt the team.”
As for taking home the Vince Lombardi trophy in 2012, Cruz says it seems like “just yesterday” he was on the field with his teammates. “I'll tell you what, it goes fast, man. It goes fast,” he said.
The 35-year-old NFL Pro Bowler said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about that Super Bowl win. “I mean, it's hard not to. It defines such a huge part of my life and my career that it’s hard not to think about it.”
On a recent Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Cruz gathered on the field with his former teammates to commemorate the championship — and to of course give each other some good-natured ribbing.
“Linking back up with the guys, seeing who got fat over the years, you know, it's like, “Oh, you gained weight!” That's the first thing you want to see is who didn't take care of themselves in 10 years,” he joked. “But most of the guys look incredible, and it was great to see everyone for sure.”
One former teammate he sees regularly is quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning. The two became close when Cruz joined the Giants as an undrafted rookie in 2010.
Cruz reminisced about how he and Manning would “throw the football around” in the streets of Hoboken, N.J., before the season began.
“Once I made the team, it helped us build a rapport and, kind of just, put us on track to be the duo that we became,” he said. “I think that without us knowing it, those early days of getting to know each other in Hoboken really paid off towards the back end of our careers.”
Cruz and Manning’s close bond was on full display during a recent episode of “The Eli Manning Show” on YouTube when Cruz took his former QB shopping for some vintage Giants’ clothes.
“[Manning’s] like a one-trick pony,” Cruz laughed. “He's a plaid shirt, brown belt, slacks or khakis - keeps it very much within his wheelhouse. Sometimes you just need to break out of that shell a little bit, kind of get out of your comfort zone.”
Cruz — who describes his own fashion style as “adult chic” — helped Manning get decked out in head-to-toe Giants gear at a shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“To Eli's credit, man, he owned it. He put it on and immediately felt the swagger and was, like ‘OK, I need to go outside and like walk around. People need to see me in this.’ I was dying laughing. It was the best thing.”
Next on the bucket list
Cruz, who was never the same after a 2014 knee injury, officially retired from the NFL in 2018. Since then, he’s worked as a sports analyst at ESPN and when he’s not attending The Met Gala or sitting in the front at New York Fashion Week, Cruz is busy flexing his business acumen.
He recently partnered with the restaurant chain Krystal to bring the Southeast-based burger chain to the Northeast, including to his hometown of Paterson, N.J. He also signed on as an adviser to the soon-to-be-launched peer-to-peer sports betting exchange Prophet Exchange.
And Cruz just expanded his namesake sneaker collaboration with luxury fashion designer Pierre Hardy.
When this reporter caught up with Cruz for our virtual interview, he had just landed in Aspen, Colorado, for a little snowboarding.
So what’s left on Cruz’s bucket list? Going to space — something former Giants champ Michael Strahan just did on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
“I asked if he could put me in his luggage, if there's an extra place for me on the rocket,” said Cruz, half joking. “I would love to do that.”
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.