Nearly four months after Jason Pierre-Paul's life and NFL career were threatened by a traumatic fireworks accident, the star defensive end Friday said he's grateful to be alive and is determined to return to the Giants as good as ever despite the loss of his right index finger and parts of his thumb and middle finger.
Pierre-Paul declined to explain the lurid details of the accident in his first media appearance, saying this isn't the time or place because the focus should be on football and the Giants' game Sunday in New Orleans. But he thanked the Giants' organization "for giving me a second chance" when they signed him Tuesday to a contract guaranteed for $1.5 million that could climb to $8.7 million with incentives.
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When asked if he feels lucky it wasn't worse, Pierre-Paul offered some perspective by noting that a 12-year-old boy in the Miami hospital where he was treated lost his life, and he saw other Fourth of July accident victims in worse condition.
"I'm just very fortunate that I'm alive," Pierre-Paul said. "I've got the wounds that you see and I look up every day at my hand and say, 'Thank you, Lord.' . . . I'm just fortunate to have a hand."
Pierre-Paul, who made no attempt to hide his injured hand during a locker-room interview, resisted questions about the pain of a rehabilitation process that included multiple surgeries and skin grafts. But at times, he offered glimpses into the life-altering event.
Asked if he was frightened or worried about his career at the time of the accident, Pierre-Paul said: "It wasn't frightening at all . . . I wasn't worried at all. I wasn't in shock or nothing. I looked at my hand. My fiancee was going crazy, but I kept calm through the whole situation."
Pierre-Paul shouldered blame for the accident that occurred at a fireworks display he had staged annually for local children the past six or seven years. "By me buying the fireworks, it was my fault," Pierre-Paul said.
He said there will be no repeat performance, and he acknowledged the dangers of fireworks, saying: "You shouldn't play with them. This is seven years I did it, and it just went off."
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Giants trainer Ronnie Barnes and other club officials went to the Miami hospital where Pierre-Paul was recovering, but they were denied permission to see him and returned home after three days. Pierre-Paul said he was under anesthesia, in and out of consciousness, and that he had no idea who made the decision to shun contact with the Giants.
On Friday, he called the club a "caring organization" and expressed thanks for the way it handled "distractions for the team that I caused."
So fences have been mended, but now the question is whether Pierre-Paul's hand has mended sufficiently to allow him to play like the pass rusher who recorded 121/2 sacks last season. He gave no timetable for his return and declined to say whether he will put his right hand on the ground in a three-point stance, but he said he will wear a specially fitted glove.
"I'm the same JPP that I was last year," he insisted. "It's not going to be a major adjustment. As far as my hand goes, I can get used to it. I'm just fortunate to play football again."
Some Giants teammates have said Pierre-Paul seems quieter and more focused since his return, and he agreed.
"That is true," Pierre-Paul said. "I humbled myself. I was always humble, but through this injury and process, I know what I had to do to get here. It took time and a lot of effort. I didn't give up."