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Jason Pierre-Paul overcomes fireworks accident, broken neck to make it back to Super Bowl

Frank Schwab
·4 min read
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It’s hard for anyone to make it 11 seasons in the NFL. For Jason Pierre-Paul, it’s almost miraculous.

Pierre-Paul had two major injuries, and each probably should have ended his career. Most NFL fans know about the fireworks accident in 2015 that led to him losing part of his right hand. Then in 2019, he had a car accident that broke his neck.

“I was just hoping he was going to be able to walk,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “Football was the furthest thing from my mind.”

Every player on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs had their challenges on the road to Super Bowl LV. None like Pierre-Paul, who came back from two potentially career-ending injuries to make a Pro Bowl and help the Buccaneers win an NFC championship. Pierre-Paul won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants early in his career, but this one is different.

“I cherish it more than you ever would know,” PIerre-Paul said.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90) made his third Pro Bowl. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90) made his third Pro Bowl. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Jason Pierre-Paul becomes a famous NFL figure

Pierre-Paul was one of the NFL’s best defensive ends for the Giants, a first-round pick who paid off and helped the Giants win a title. But before July 4, 2015, casual fans might not have known his name.

Pierre-Paul’s fireworks accident became huge news, even to people who might never watch football. Pierre-Paul had fingers amputated or partially amputated. The Giants rescinded a long-term contract offer worth a reported $60 million. It seemed hard to believe a defensive end whose hand had suffered a devastating injury could ever play at a high level again.

Pierre-Paul recorded just one sack in eight games his first season after the accident, but then returned to form. His next two Giants seasons he had 15.5 sacks. He became a spokesperson for fireworks safety. Even during his Super Bowl media availability over Zoom this week, he showed his injured hand when mentioning his fireworks accident.

(NFL media screen shot)
(NFL media screen shot)

Pierre-Paul had plenty of cruel things said about him and to him on social media. But he has become an inspirational story to people dealing with adversity.

“When you say resiliency, you have to look at the things you can do in life,” Pierre-Paul said. “There’s going to be people to say you can’t do it, because they can’t do it, but the reality is if you put your mind to it and put God first, you can do whatever you want to in life. No matter how hard it seems, don’t quit. It’s easier said than done, but I never quit in anything in life. I’m going to give you everything I’ve got until I can’t.”

His resiliency was tested again in 2019.

Pierre-Paul’s serious car accident

Pierre-Paul’s Ferrari spun in wet conditions and hit a concrete median in May of 2019. He fractured his neck.

He came back to play in 2019. He played 10 games and had a good season.

“When I broke my neck and came back and got 8.5 sacks in 10 games, I should have been in the Pro Bowl,” Pierre-Paul said.

Pierre-Paul had 9.5 sacks and made a Pro Bowl this season, and was a big part of a Bucs defense that is tasked with slowing down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Pierre-Paul said he played at 75 percent this season, but promised to be 100 percent next season.

“He’s the best guy at playing injured, and being tough, that I know,” Arians said.

Pierre-Paul has played in seven career playoff games and has won all seven. He has 89 career sacks and only 35 players in NFL history have reached 100. Regardless of whatever happens Sunday or for the rest of his career, he’ll be known for coming back from adversity, particularly the fireworks accident, and he seems fine with that.

He said he has a plaque at home that says “Beat the Odds,” which is almost too perfect.

“With all the things I’ve been through, I’m just overachieving,” Pierre-Paul said. “Letting everybody know, no matter what you go through, you can do whatever.”

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