EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It has been more than two years since Victor Cruz reached the end zone at the Meadowlands and performed his famous salsa dance in front of the home crowd. It would be "icing on the cake" of his comeback, he said, if he could do that in the final home game of the season.
It would be even more emotional considering it could be the final home game of Cruz's Giants career, too.
Cruz didn't want to talk about that possibility this week, but it's a real one for the popular receiver. He's due $6.4 million next season, plus a $1 million roster bonus and he'll carry a hefty salary cap number of $9.4 million. That's way too much for a 30-year-old who has only 28 catches for 466 yards in 12 games.
Cruz has made a remarkable comeback after missing nearly two years and undergoing surgery on both his knee and his calf. But even he understands what the numbers mean.
"That's not just enough for me," Cruz said. "Just being good enough to be back out there isn't going to keep you around for years to come. So I want to make sure I'm doing what I need to do while I'm out there, making plays so that I can earn my keep a little bit."
There's always the possibility that Cruz can negotiate another huge pay cut for the second straight offseason and convince the Giants to keep him around. But when the team drafted receiver Sterling Shepard in the second round last April, they were clearly beginning to prepare for a Cruz-less future. And this season, as Cruz has struggled to regain his old form, he's split snaps at times with undrafted rookie Roger Lewis.
The result has been a diminished role. Two weeks ago, Cruz was frustrated when he didn't have a single pass thrown his direction in a loss at Pittsburgh. He had four balls thrown to him in the Giants' win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, but he only caught one for four yards. In fact, Cruz hasn't caught more than one pass in a game since he caught five for 55 yards in the Giants' win over the Rams in London back on Oct. 23.
All of which brings him to Sunday, which -- since the Giants are likely to be on the road if they make the playoffs -- could be the last time he ever wears a Giants uniform in MetLife Stadium. Cruz, though, refused to look beyond the fact that it's the final home game of the regular season. That's enough, he said, to make him yearn for one more salsa in front of his crowd.
"That would be icing on the cake for me," Cruz said. "Last regular-season game here at home. For me to find that end zone again and dance in front of that home crowd, it would be a pretty emotional time for me to say the least."
That's because few players in Giants history have enjoyed the love affair that Cruz has had with the fans. The native of nearby Paterson, N.J. has been a favorite since his infamous breakout preseason game against the Jets in 2010 when he was an undrafted rookie trying to make the final roster. And his popularity skyrocketed during his first full season in 2011, when he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns and helped the Giants to a Super Bowl championship.
Even a devastating knee injury that cut his 2014 season short after six games, and a calf injury that ruined his entire 2015 season could not spoil his relationship with the fans. He remains among the most popular players on the team even as his numbers have taken a dramatic dip this year.
"There's a lot of love out there," he said. "I think fans are happy to see me back out there in uniform again and happy to see me running around and playing football again. After two years I guess they missed me a little bit.
"This is home. This is family for me. This fan base, these people in the locker room, upstairs (in the Giants front office). I mean, it feels like home when I'm coming in here and you can see that week in and week out during the home games how much love there has been from the fans."
How long will it remain home? Probably not much longer. But that's a thought that, at least for the moment, Cruz isn't willing to entertain.
"I'm not thinking about anything regarding next year," Cruz said. "I'm just thinking about right now, what this team has in front of us and taking it from there."