Victor Cruz of the New York Giants was surprised and touched to learn he was the hero of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Jack Pinto.
Pinto, who died Friday, used to wear Cruz’s jersey during Giants games.
On Sunday, Cruz returned the favor in a way, writing Jack’s name on his shoes for the team’s game against the Falcons, who crushed New York 34-0.
Cruz was definitely a winner regardless of that result; after the game, he addressed the media and tried to make sense of the tragedy and his ties to it.
"It’s humbling," he said. "I was honored to know I was his favorite player. It’s just unreal what happened."
Like the rest of the country, Cruz watched and read with horror as the events of Newtown, Conn., unfolded on Friday, about an hour from New York City.
By Saturday, he realized that he had an unexpected, personal connection.
"My Twitter feed started filling up with ‘Jack Pinto, Jack Pinto,’" the 26-year-old wide receiver said. "I’m reading this, and I’m in my hotel room fighting back tears."
He asked his girlfriend Elaina to try to track down Jack’s family, and within 20 minutes, she’d located them and patched him in on a three-way call.
This first time, Cruz and Jack’s family didn’t talk for long, just a few minutes of shared sadness. But Cruz pledged to honor Jack’s memory in Sunday’s game.
More importantly, he pledged that he’d be there for the family beyond that.
He’ll head to Newtown later this week to present Jack’s family with the cleats and the gloves from the game, remaining vague on the details to avoid media attention.
"The last thing I want to do is add stress in this tough time," he said.
"We may do a fundraiser, something like that," he said. "For now all we want to do is comfort the family. We’ll think about other things we can do to help in the long term."
As for the political implications – the gun control debate reared up the moment the tragedy broke, and was alluded to in President Obama’s Newtown speech Sunday – Cruz hedged.
The NFL star acknowledged the issues, but said, "If I’m needed in [a political] way, I’ll do whatever I can, but I’m focused on the positivity and the well-being of the family."
Gotta respect Victor for that – and all of his efforts.