Last July a fireworks accident mangled Jason Pierre-Paul’s right hand, resulting in the eventual loss of his index finger as well as parts of two other fingers. It also resulted in a drama-filled 2015 season with the Giants that saw him not communicating with the team for a good portion of the summer, rehabbing on his own, and finally returning to play the second half of the season. This year he’s had an extra surgery in the offseason and has not had any physical limitations throughout the spring or preseason.
The former Pro Bowl defensive end took time to speak with Newsday’s Tom Rock about why his high hopes for 2016 have nothing to do with the custom-made glove he now wears, about missing out on a lucrative long-term contract, and about why his mission for this year goes beyond just winning another Super Bowl.
NEWSDAY: How have the past 14 months changed you? The accident, coming back last season, re-signing with the Giants, and now getting ready for a full season?
JASON PIERRE-PAUL: “Man, it just made me a better person. I’m just a better person. People look up to me for inspiration and it makes me keep striving to be better than I was before. Which I’m going to be.’’
ND: The coaches have said you look “like a man on a mission” this preseason. What’s your mission?
JPP: “My mission is to show the world that no matter what the outcome of circumstances when people tell you that you can’t succeed in life, it’s not their decision it’s yours. You know what I’m saying? It’s to motivate all the kids around the world and let them know that no matter what you’re going through, as long as you have God with you or whatever you believe in, a higher power, you’re going to be good. That’s my goal.”
ND: Is that a bigger goal for you than just winning another Super Bowl?
JPP: “Most definitely I think so. That’s not really about football to me anymore. It’s more than football. It’s more than football. At the end of the day I wasn’t supposed to be playing anyway, you know what I’m saying?”
ND: You’ve had a few preseason games now to test the glove that you’ll be wearing this season. How’s it working? What’s the biggest difference that you feel with it?
JPP: “I want to let you and everyone know that it ain’t the glove. Everybody keeps saying ‘the glove, the glove.’ Look, the glove has nothing to do with my play. Nothing to do with my play. If I didn’t wear gloves (before the accident) I wouldn’t wear gloves. I would go out there with my hand. But it’s not a fact that I need a glove for my hand. Just because the glove is custom-made doesn’t mean the glove is giving me extra, extra protection. It’s just a glove that was made because I’m missing fingers. I hope everybody understands that when they read this.’’
ND: So let’s ask it another way: How is it working without the club you wore last year?
JPP: “It’s feeling great. Feeling great. The only thing now is to go out there and do it come September 11.’’
ND: There aren’t a lot of players left on the Giants who won the Super Bowl. What do you tell the younger guys about that experience, what it takes to get there, and things like that?
JPP: “Some guys ask that, but you have to understand that it’s not about what was then, but what we’re going to do about it now. We have a chance to have a great team this year. I’m looking forward to going out there and doing whatever I can to help produce and make it a great team. If guys will follow behind me, good. We have a great front four, the offense will come around, we have a great special teams. We’ll be fine.’’
ND: If I had told you on the field in Indianapolis after the Super Bowl XLVII win that you and the Giants wouldn’t get back to the playoffs for at least the next four seasons, you would have said . . . ?
JPP: “You never know. Each year is different, man. You can have a great team and great players, but it’s all about thinking too. You have to have great guys who are willing to have chemistry with each other and willing to go out there and do whatever it takes to win the game. Some guys fall short of that, some guys don’t. You have to create a team, like what we’re doing now in training camp. We’re creating a team. This year, this a team, we can do it with what we’ve got. We just have to put in the effort.’’
ND: This offseason we saw a lot of big contracts for pass-rushers, including your new teammate Olivier Vernon’s $85-million deal with the Giants. Did you feel like you missed out on a lot of money because of the accident?
JPP: “I didn’t miss out on nothing, man. I’m blessed. I’m blessed to be making the money I’m making. I didn’t miss out on nothing. Those guys, they deserve it. They deserve what they got. They played a great season. I was cut eight games short. But guess what, I got 16 now. I’m not worried about anything, though. My life is great how it is and I’m blessed to be making the kind of money I’m making so I’m not worried about everybody else’s contract. What’s for you is always for you. What’s meant to be for you will happen. So I don’t worry about that. Those guys deserve it.’’
ND: How about looking ahead? You’re on a one-year contract with the Giants, this season can go a lot of different ways for you . . . ?
JPP: “And the end it is what it is. I’m just here to play football. The contract will take care of itself. I’ll make that happen with my play.’’
ND: You’re still a young man, you have a young family. How much longer do you want to play football?
JPP: “I want to play until I’m ready to walk away from it. And I wasn’t ready last year.’’
ND: Tell me about your relationship with Olivier Vernon, you guys are teammates now.
JPP: “We’re cool. My relationship with all the players, everybody comes at me the same way. If they have a problem they can come to me. That’s our relationship. I’m very open with my teammates.’’
ND: How’s your relationship with Ben McAdoo?
JPP: “He’s great.’’
ND: You’re playing on a team that was the 32nd-ranked defense a year ago. Where do you think you should finish this year?
JPP: “How should I know that? That’s why we have to go play football, right? To see what we’re going to do.’’
ND: What’s the best part about being a father?
JPP: “Man, the best part about being a father is knowing that you have someone you’re responsible for, someone you have to take care of. That’s the best part to me. Being there for my son.’’
ND: What’s the best part about being a Giant?
JPP: “The best part about being a Giant is that we can make this one hell of a defense. Everybody knows about the Giants D, right?’’
ND: And what’s the best part about being JPP?
JPP: “I’m always the same guy. Always the same guy.’’
‘I’m just a better person. People look up to me for inspiration and it makes me keep striving to be better than I was before. Which I’m going to be.’
-- Jason Pierre-Paul