INDIANAPOLIS — Move over salsa-specialist Victor Cruz. Aaron Hernandez may need room to show his merengue moves in the end zone.
The dueling dancers are practicing the steps that they hope will lead to touchdowns at the Super Bowl and give the NFL showcase the look of a hard-hitting episode of Dancing With the (Football) Stars.
The versatile Hernandez has twisted his way downfield for the New England Patriots — changing direction after making catches and swerving by frustrated pursuers on a 43-yard run playoff run from the backfield against Denver. Now he's heard suggestions that he break out the salsa should he score a touchdown on Sunday, just as Cruz does with the New York Giants.
"They told me to do the salsa and I was joking around, saying maybe I'll do the merengue," a smiling Hernandez said Thursday, three days before the Super Bowl. "But that's his style, and I respect him doing that and that's also a shoutout to the Hispanic community.
"But he's a good player and, hopefully, he doesn't get too many salsa dances this week."
Cruz sidesteps the idea of a Sunday Night Fever dance-off with Hernandez.
"I just want to get in the end zone and win this football game," he said.
Hernandez is used to playing second fiddle as "the other" tight end in the Patriots dynamic combo.
Rob Gronkowski's left ankle has been in the spotlight ever since the All-Pro sprained it Jan. 22 in the AFC championship game. Before that, Gronkowski's big hands that rarely drop a football drew the attention. He set an NFL single-season record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches, usually followed by a powerful spike.
"I'm sure he'll be fine" for the game, Hernandez said. "Everyone knows he's a beast, and he'll definitely be a huge impact in this game."
Hernandez, faster and shiftier than the bulldozing Gronkowski, had a pretty good season, too. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. But he doesn't mind getting less attention.
"I've never been that type of person and the way our relationship is, we're so close that we don't even think about it like that," Hernandez said. "I'm not a huge media guy, as you know, so he can have all the media he wants. You can talk to him and I know he loves it."
There are other differences.
Tight ends coach Brian Ferentz said Hernandez can be stubborn and moody, while "it's hard to get Rob out of a good mood." But both are very coachable.
"Sometimes Aaron knows he made a mistake," Ferentz said. "He doesn't always like to get coached on it, but I can relate to that because nobody likes being wrong."
Several nicknames have been suggested for the duo The Boston TE Party, Quake and Shake. Hernandez has no preference, but nicknames are "kind of cool," he said. "It brings a little, I don't know, swagger to it."
Soon they could be called Super Bowl champions.
That would be quite an honor for the star from Bristol, Conn., who competed with Gronkowski for the top national rating among tight ends during high school and college. They finally met at the pre-draft scouting combine in Indianapolis in 2010. They were reunited as teammates on the Patriots.