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Giants made the gutsy, but right call to release fan favorite Victor Cruz

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Cruz and the Giants had a good run.

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Victor Cruz scored 25 touchdowns in his six seasons on the field with the New York Giants. Fans in East Rutherford were treated to what became their favorite touchdown celebration — the salsa. Monday afternoon, that moment was taken away as the Giants decided to release the fan favorite Cruz.

Because it’s Victor Cruz, it couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.

Cruz took everybody by surprise in 2011 with 1,536 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. Not only was it unexpected, it was also a great story. Cruz was undrafted, and played college football at UMass of all places. There are only 10 other players in the NFL from UMass. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure UMass even had a football program when I first heard of Cruz. When I thought about UMass, I thought about the 1995-96 basketball team coached by John Calipari with Marcus Camby.

It’s hard to not root for a guy like that, no matter where you devote your fandom in the NFL. After that breakout season — if he hadn’t done so already — Cruz cemented his spot in the hearts of Giants fans when he helped bring the team another Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. He had four receptions, 25 yards, and a touchdown in the 21-17 victory.

Super Bowl XLVI

Cruz was more than just a great story on the field though. He was a rare case in which an NFL player made himself visible not just to fans of the game, but even people who might be outside of NFL viewing. Based on his Instagram posts over time, and seeing him in NBA arenas and other public events, he became known as a sneakerhead. He could be rocking something more current like some Kobe’s, or a classic like Michael Jordan’s white cement 3s he wore in the iconic 1988 NBA Dunk Contest.

His off-the-field presence, combined with his on-field success, led Cruz to getting his own signature shoe with Nike in October of 2015. There have been some great players to play between the lines in the history of the NFL, but very few have had a cultural impact to the point where Nike or any other brand shells out the money for a signature sneaker. Cruz did that, and was understandably proud of it.

“I think it’s right next to that Super Bowl ring,” Cruz told Complex in 2015. “It’s definitely that high.” Cruz told Complex that LeBron texted him, “Size 15. I don’t need to say anything else.” When LeBron James is texting you for your signature sneaker, you’ve made it.

'I Am A Giant: Victor Cruz' New York Screening Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Though his profile continued to climb off the field, he never did as well on the field as he did in 2011. He then suffered a devastating knee injury six games into the 2014 season. At that time, the hope was that Cruz was going to heal up just fine and come back ready to go the following year. When Odell Beckham Jr. burst onto the scene in 2014 around the same time that Cruz had gotten injured, it really looked like the Giants were going to be set up with one of the best receiving duos in the NFL in the future.

As Cruz looked like he was getting ready to make his debut in 2015, he was running routes in practice and tweaked his calf. It would end up requiring surgery, so he never saw the field. It was a crushing blow in a season in which the Giants went 6-10.

This past season, Cruz scored a touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 1. It actually felt like he was back. It was the first time Giants fans had seen that signature salsa dance in 721 days. For all of the feeling that Cruz’s career might be trending in the wrong direction, there was a glimmer of hope.

That hope didn’t persist. As the season progressed, there was no doubt that Cruz wasn’t happy in a Giants offense that struggled greatly. Toward the end of the season, he was losing snaps to Roger Lewis and Tavarres King. Rookie Sterling Shepard was prioritized over him, and it even got to the point where Cruz didn’t get any targets in a Week 11 loss to the Steelers. “There’s always opportunities for everybody to get the ball out there and I didn’t get those today,” Cruz told the New York Daily News after the loss.

Everybody’s favorite salsa dancing NFL wide receiver had been on what seemed like a fast decline, and faded away ever so gently throughout 2016.

It’s unfortunate that it came to this with Cruz. Culturally, he was able to connect with New York through his salsa dance. He helped bring their beloved franchise a Super Bowl title. Not only could you buy that blue No. 80 jersey, you could wear his shoes too. That’s rare in the NFL landscape, and something that gave fans a special connection to him that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

Monday, the Giants told their fans that he wasn’t worth it anymore by releasing him. In America’s largest city, with a fan base so dedicated to their team, that takes a lot of guts. A new team could be a fresh start that Cruz needs, and another fan base will learn how to salsa along the way.