TAMPA, Fla. --- Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans gave defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul a standing ovation Sunday in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers. He had just recorded his 10.5th sack of the season, marking his first double-digit sack total since a fireworks accident nearly ended his career in 2015.
"That kid's got f---ing heart," said Simeon Rice, the last Bucs player to record double-digit sacks in 2005, who had 122.0 in his career. "Look at what he's been through. It's bigger than football. It's who he is in his core. The fabric of the man won't let him concede."
Pierre-Paul tried to downplay the achievement, but he was humbled by Rice's praise, even following the Bucs' first win in four games, a 27-9 victory against the 49ers (2-9).
"It means a lot ... but to be honest, I'm not really looking for sack records," said Pierre-Paul, who has 68.5 sacks in his career. "I'm just playing great ball, trying to get my teammates going. I appreciate the love."
It was just three years ago that Pierre-Paul was being wheeled into emergency surgery and pleading with doctors not to cut off his hand after the fireworks accident. Doctors saved his hand but had to amputate his index finger.
Even though the injury is, as Pierre-Paul puts it, "way over," it still has an impact on his on-field play. If he leaves a game with an injury -- such as the knee issue he has dealt with since Week 1 that forced him to briefly leave Sunday's game -- he makes every effort to return and press on. He knows what it's like to have football almost taken away.
"That's why I'm able to tolerate so much pain -- it's because of my hand," Pierre-Paul said. "Like with my knee for me, for another guy, it is totally different. ... I always say, 'As long as I finish the game, I'm OK.' I always put myself out there, and it's all for the team. That's just me, even with a banged-up knee or whatever you want to call it. It's just a mindset, man. Nothing but simple pain -- that's it."
The Pierre-Paul who was traded to the Bucs this offseason for a third-round draft pick (the Bucs and Giants also swapped fourth-round picks) wasn't known for being much of a talker or a locker room leader in New York. But with Tampa Bay, he stood up in front of teammates during training camp and recounted the night his NFL dream almost ended.
He told them, "Don't ever take anything for granted. ... You never know if this could be your last play."
Defensive tackle Beau Allen said at the time, "It was definitely one of the more memorable [speeches]."
That moment wasn't lost on Allen, and he and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy huddled around Pierre-Paul's locker to celebrate the veteran's achievement on Sunday.
"Listen, I've been here a long time, OK? And for me to see this happen is very special," McCoy said. "He's going to downplay it. I'm not. Very special -- something we haven't seen in a long time, man. This dude deserves everything coming his way, and I love him."
Teammates have said they appreciate Pierre-Paul's work ethic, fighting spirit and perspective. He'll tell you that he absolutely hates losing games, but he considers it a privilege to be able to go to work every day.
"I'm positive, man. I had a life-changing experience," Pierre-Paul said. "I always look at things in a positive way. At the end of the day, football is just a football game. It's all the memories that you can collect by doing it."
He certainly created a special one -- albeit a long-awaited one -- for Bucs fans on Sunday, and they stood and cheered.