New Buc Jason Pierre-Paul: ‘I’m unstoppable’

New Buc Jason Pierre-Paul and general manager Jason Licht. (Greg Auman, Times)
New Buc Jason Pierre-Paul and general manager Jason Licht. (Greg Auman, Times)
Published March 23, 2018|Updated March 24, 2018

TAMPA — It will be three years this July 4 since Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a horrific hand injury lighting fireworks in his hometown. Three years since he lost his index finger and part of his thumb to amputation and needed multiple skin grafts to his middle finger.

The defensive end has played two full seasons since then, returning to his status of one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers. Last season, Pierre-Paul played an astounding 1,010 snaps for the Giants, rarely coming off the field.

Physically, Pierre-Paul made it back. But some scars are still fresh and easily opened.

On Friday, one day after being traded to the Bucs, Pierre-Paul took a seat at a table in One Buc Place, a short run from Raymond James Stadium where he chased quarterbacks for USF as a 2009 All-American.

When he was asked what he learned from his long road back from the accident, he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.

"Sorry. I get emotional when I talk about my injury," Pierre-Paul said. "Sorry.

"What I learned was that I'm unstoppable, man. I thank my dad for that, because he's been blind for 29 years and he never complained once. From that, I know I'm unstoppable. It's going to take a hell of a lot to get me off that damn field. That's what it is."

Pierre-Paul's story always has been one of perseverance.

The son of Haitian immigrants, he was born in Deerfield Beach, about 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Glaucoma took his father's eyesight, and he could no longer support his family. Pierre-Paul's mother went to work as a housekeeper soon after her son was born and continued in that job even after he made it to the NFL.

He played junior college in two states, including in Kansas at Fort Scott Community College where he was a teammate of future Bucs linebacker Lavonte David. One magical season for the Bulls launched his career as the Giants drafted him 15th overall in 2010.

Pierre-Paul was on top of the NFL, having just had 12.5 sacks for the Giants and about to become a free agent.

"I never, ever doubted myself that I would play football again," he said. "When I returned back, I had one goal. My one goal was I'm not missing a season. I came back and actually finished that season. …

"In order for me to not play this sport, you've got to take both of my legs, you know what I'm saying? Even then, I'd still try to fight my way through."

It's that kind of fight that the Bucs are hoping the two-time Pro Bowl player will bring to their defense, which was last in the NFL in sacks last season with 22. Pierre-Paul had 8.5 last season for the Giants, but they apparently found him expendable in what will be a new 3-4 defensive scheme.

Pierre-Paul was getting into his car in Boca Raton on Thursday morning, going to pick out some tile for his new house, when the Giants called and broke the news that he had been traded.

"I got the call and I was like, 'What?' " Pierre-Paul said. "Obviously, I had to soak it in for a little bit. Everybody says it's a great move. I think it's a great move. My family is excited. I'm going to be close to my son."

Returning to Tampa feels like a homecoming of sorts, he said. "It feels like a reunion, like I'm coming back to high school again and meeting everybody," Pierre-Paul said.

At 29, Pierre-Paul "still has a lot of gas in his tank," according to Bucs general manager Jason Licht. Apparently, he also has a chip on his shoulder.
Over and over again Friday, Pierre-Paul kept saying he had something more to prove.

"I want to actually win another Super Bowl," said Pierre-Paul, who won one with the Giants in the 2011 season. "Make it to a couple more Pro Bowls. I have a whole list sheet, man. I actually have my son, which he knows about football now, he knows my number now. No. 90.

"For a 3-year-old to know that, that's a lot for me. So I've still got energy left in the tank and as long as I'm still playing and my son is happy, my family is happy, the organization is happy, I'm fine."

Pierre-Paul's first game back from his injury in 2015 came against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium. He had two tackles.

"I was proving to the world anything was possible," he said. "And from that day, anything was possible."