The life of 6-year-old Jack Pinto may have been tragically cut short in Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but his memory went speeding through the Georgia Dome yesterday on the hands and feet of New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. In the Giants’ game against the Atlanta Falcons, Cruz put Jack Pinto’s name on his cleats and gloves: “Jack Pinto ‘My Hero,’” one read. “R.I.P. Jack Pinto,” noted the other.
It was a humbling tribute to the slain first-grader whose favorite football player was Cruz, a 26-year-old wideout from the University of Massachusetts. Cruz, who has an 11-month-old daughter, learned in the aftermath of the shooting that Jack had idolized him and called up the family to ask if he could help them in any way. “I was in the hotel [in Atlanta], and as I was talking to them I was fighting back tears. You could hear everybody in the background crying as well. It was tough to listen to,” Cruz said, according to the New York Daily News.
The young boy was such a fan of the receiver that his family is considering burying him in his No. 80 Giants jersey. “I told them I was honored,” Cruz told ESPN. “I couldn’t even express to them how great that made me feel and how big of an honor that is.” That’s when Cruz hatched the plan to honor Jack when he took the field on Sunday.
“That’s just the kind of guy Vic is,” the Giants’ general manager, Jerry Reese, told the Star-Ledger. The NFL, normally very strict about its uniform code, will not be penalizing Cruz for writing on his cleats, reports USA Today. The whole Giants squad wore the initials SHES on their helmets for Sunday’s game and observed a moment of silence before kickoff to honor the memories of the 26 fallen Sandy Hook students and staff.
(VIDEO: TIME’s 10 Questions for Victor Cruz)
Cruz never got to perform his signature touchdown salsa for Jack, notching only three receptions for 15 yards in a 34-0 loss. However, the Giants receiver plans to visit the family later this week, the New York Times reports — “even if it’s just for an hour” — and will present them with the cleats he wore during yesterday’s game.