There’s a plaque on one of the walls of Jason Pierre-Paul’s home office, and it serves as a daily reminder of his life’s driving force.
“Beat the odds,” the plaque reads. It’s so fitting because that’s exactly what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass-rusher has done throughout his journey.
Super Bowl week is full of stories of inspiration and determination. Every player, coach, team staff member has performed some level of remarkable just to get to this point.
But few can touch Pierre-Paul and the long odds that he has faced and overcome throughout his life and playing career. Few embody resilience quite as thoroughly as Pierre-Paul.
Born to Haitian immigrants in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Pierre-Paul bloomed late in football and bounced to two junior colleges before developing into an NFL prospect at the University of South Florida in Tampa. A first-round pick of the New York Giants in 2010, he became a Super Bowl champion the following year as his team beat Tom Brady and the Patriots. Twice since then he has come back from serious off-field injuries that threatened his playing career. And now, the 32-year-old 11th-year pro stands poised to compete for a Lombardi trophy once again at a point where many would have given up.
But not the dude known to his football brethren as “JPP.” Quitting is not something he does.
“I’ve shocked the world,” Pierre-Paul declared this week, referring to his rebound from the 2015 fireworks injury that led to the amputation of his right index finger and part of his middle finger and thumb and should have greatly hampered his ability to still perform at an elite level while playing a position where you’re required to grab, grip and toss aside 300-pound offensive linemen and sack quarterbacks.
He also was referring to the spring of 2019 when he sustained a neck fracture in a car accident but still recovered in time to return to the field midway through the season and record 8.5 sacks in 10 games.
“I came back to shock the world and prove to them that anything is possible if you put God first,” Pierre-Paul continued.
As coach Bruce Arians put it, “The guy is the epitome of perseverance. … JPP plays with a heart that’s as big as a lion. High, high energy. Guys just love playing with him. When he speaks they listen.”
Pierre-Paul describes this second Super Bowl appearance as much sweeter than his first. Part of the reason is Sunday’s game will take place in Pierre-Paul and the Buccaneers’ home stadium, also the same field the pass-rusher played on for USF, and in his home state.
But more than anything, Pierre-Paul says his appreciation stems from the journey that he endured in the nine seasons between Super Bowl 46 and Super Bowl 55.
“I cherish it more than you would ever know, man,” Pierre-Paul explained. “My first Super Bowl, I didn’t even understand football like that. I was just there playing football, and I didn’t really know too much.”
But now, he has been through so much more. Now, he understands just how hard it is to get back to this game, with or without tragic off-field events. Now he’s a dad, with children who understand what’s going on, and he badly wants to win for them. He also wants to win for his parents, whose life examples taught Pierre-Paul exactly what resilience is about and forged his internal strength.
“I’ve been through a lot and the things I go through, I just think happy thoughts,” Pierre-Paul said. “I say this all the time, I think about my father being blind at the age of 30, 31 and having to look out for me when my mom was working and doing the best he could. He never quit. He’s still here today, and just happy and joyful and laughing and is happy for me that I’m in another Super Bowl.
“Six years ago, I went through a hand injury, the firework incident, and last year, I had a broken neck,” Pierre-Paul continued. “When you say resilience, you’ve just got to look at the things you can do in life. There are always going to be people saying you can’t do things because they can’t do it. But reality is, when you put your mind to it and put God first, you can do whatever you want to in life if you don’t give up. No matter how hard it seems, just don’t quit. It may seem easier said than done, but I never quit in life. That’s just been me. I’m going to give everything I got until I can’t.”
As he advises his younger teammates on how to approach Sunday, Pierre-Paul urges them to do so with deep appreciation.
“I told them take everything in,” he said. “Make sure you take everything in because tomorrow is not promised. Super Bowl is not promised. Took me nine years to get back to this point. … There are guys been in the league 15, 17 years, just like Philip Rivers. Look at him. Never won a Super Bowl. But he’s a great, phenomenal quarterback. It’s just hard to get to this point and once you get to this point, realize how blessed you are and don’t take it for granted.”