What happened to Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand? Pro Bowl career rebuilt with Buccaneers after fireworks accident

By | February 7, 2021

Jason Pierre-Paul has played in one Super Bowl in his career. That was in February 2012, against Tom Brady, a Giants victory.

Pierre-Paul is one win away from another Super Bowl appearance. This time, Brady is his team’s quarterback.

The 32-year old defensive end is in his third season with the Buccaneers after eight years with the Giants. He recorded 9.5 sacks this year, taking his three-year Tampa Bay total up to 30.5, and JPP also grabbed his first two interceptions since 2013 this season. Maybe Pierre-Paul isn’t quite the player he was in his New York days, but he’s still an impact pass rusher on a strong defensive line where he teams with Ndamukong Suh, Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea.

Even more notable for some casual football fans, Pierre-Paul is now nearing the end of the sixth season he’s played since injuring his right hand in a 2015 fireworks incident. After what could’ve been a career-altering accident, JPP remains one of the most feared sack-artists in football. After being named to the 2020 Pro Bowl, such continued success could lead also lead Pierre-Paul back to the Super Bowl.

What happened to Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand?

On July 4, 2015, Pierre-Paul gathered with his family and friends to celebrate Independence Day. He purchased $1,100 worth of fireworks to set off, and all but one batch went off without a hitch. The last set of fireworks didn’t do anything the first seven times Pierre-Paul tried to launch them, he told Sports Illustrated in 2016.  

On the eighth attempt, there was a flash and a boom. Pierre-Paul didn’t notice anything until someone yelled to look at his hand.

“I’m looking at my [right] hand and I’m seeing every ligament,” Pierre-Paul told SI. “You only see this stuff in the movies.”

Pierre-Paul was immediately driven to the hospital as “blood spilled everywhere,” per SI. He doesn’t remember much from the hospital, but he recalled telling doctors, “Whatever y’all do, do not cut my hand off.”

The initial emergency surgery performed on Pierre-Paul required more than a dozen pins put into his hand, along with skin grafted from his forearm to his palm. A doctor told the mother of Pierre-Paul’s infant son that his career was likely over.

Pierre-Paul was transferred to a hospital in Miami where fears of it being a career-ending injury went away. But he had to remain in the hosptial for more than two weeks, undergoing 10 surgeries and losing 30 pounds in the process.

As part of the procedures, Pierre-Paul had his right index finger amputated. That’s the most noticeable difference to his right hand from his left — one less finger.

“I could dwell on it, like, Damn, I wish I had that finger,” Pierre-Paul told SI, “but when I look in the mirror, I’m happy. Thank the Lord — it could have been worse.”

Jason Pierre-Paul’s career post-fireworks incident

Pierre-Paul didn’t return to the field for the Giants until Week 9 of 2015, and he struggled in his first eight games back on the field, recording only one sack. But he bounced back the next two seasons, first with 7.0 sacks in 12 games in 2016 and then with 8.5 sacks in 2017. It was a decline from his 12.5 sacks in 2014, but it was more like the old Pierre-Paul back again. 

The Giants signed Pierre-Paul to a four-year extension in the 2017 offseason, but they traded him to the Buccaneers in 2018 for draft capital. He had his best season post-fireworks incident in 2018, at least in regards to sacks, recording 12.5. An offseason car accident limited Pierre-Paul to 10 games in 2019, but he played in all 16 games again in 2020. 

One staple of Pierre-Paul’s game in recent years, even as he’s aged and dealt with other injuries, has been not wanting to leave the field. He played at least 78 percent of snaps in every Tampa Bay game in 2020, usually approaching 90 percent of snaps played. Defensive linemen rarely stay on the field that much without being rotated, but Pierre-Paul appreciates his time in the game, maybe more than most.

“Reality is, when is the time to rest when you’re playing football? Especially when you’re trying to win a game,” Pierre-Paul said in November. “Me personally, I’m not going to come out unless I feel like I need to come out. I think me and my coach bump heads a little bit with that – he’s always trying to look out for me – but I’d rather stay in because I know in the heat of the moment, anything can happen in just those couple of seconds.”