INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine you are the father of a great guitar player, but since you are deaf, you can’t hear him play. Imagine your son is an elite artist, but you can’t see his paintings. Or imagine your daughter is a top model, and you can only feel the outline of her face and visualize what she might look like.
Now you know how it feels for Jean Pierre-Paul, the father of New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. He has never seen his son play the game of football.
He started going blind before Jason Pierre-Paul was born, so he has never watched even a snap of his son’s football art.
It’s a dark canvas that only Jean Pierre-Paul’s imagination can paint to help make the picture come alive.
The elder Pierre-Paul can only sit with his wife as she watches Giants games on television, listening to the sound on the TV and the commentary from the family.
This week, that will change. For the first time, Jean Pierre-Paul will be in the stadium when his son takes the field.
This, after all, is the Super Bowl. He will be in the stands for Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium as his son tries to throw Tom Brady to the ground.
“It’s special, even though he can’t see at all and he doesn’t know what’s going on,” Jason Pierre-Paul said. “He has to listen to the crowd. It’s going to be great. My whole family is going to be there. It’s a once-in-chance opportunity.”
If I were asked by the father to describe the son on the football field, it would be this: A relentless ball of fury who never lets up. Pierre-Paul is a player teammates call an “athletic freak,” because he is so raw, yet so good.
He never lets up. From the first snap to the last, No. 90 will be on the tape going all out all the time. If he’s on the back side of a play, look for him to do everything in his power to chase it down.
“He’s been the one consistent guy on our defensive line that’s played for us. He has not been injured, and he’s been studying,” Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “I’ve got to give [credit] to his defensive line coach Robert Nunn and JPP. It’s been a serious approach to the game. He’s wanted to do well, and he’s had a hunger and desire to do well, so when you have that combination with talent, you just let it go.”
That amazing athletic ability, which made him a YouTube sensation when he did 23 backflips before a bowl game in college, helped hi get 16 1/2 sacks this season and earn a Pro Bowl spot. But it’s that relentless style that truly separates him from the others. That comes from his father.
“My dad never quit, no matter what,” Jason Pierre-Paul said. “He can’t see. He never let that stop him. When something like that happens, [other people] think their life is over. That’s not true. He does regular things. No matter what is, we can be down 20, I’m never going to quit. I’m going to keep rushing until the whistle blows and until the end of the game.”
This story wouldn’t even be told were it not for a restaurant manager who was once the younger Pierre-Paul’s boss at Boston Market. The Giants owe that man a big dose of gratitude.
Were it not for him, Pierre-Paul wouldn’t be in the NFL or sitting on a podium Tuesday at Super Bowl XLVI Media Day answering questions.
Unlike most kids who work during high school to buy CDs and other fun things, Pierre-Paul had to work to help pay his family’s bills. If the manager of that store had not adjusted Pierre-Paul’s work schedule, there would be no Pierre-Paul the football player.
It wasn’t football first. The family needed the money since his mother worked 12-hour days and his father couldn’t work. The Haitian immigrants struggled to make ends meet, and whatever help Jason could provide was needed.
“I had to figure out how to manage my time,” Pierre-Paul said. “We had bills to pay and we had to get them paid.”
He would go to class at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School, and then to football practice. He would shower at the school after practice, get to work for his 7:30 p.m. shift and work to almost midnight. And then do it all over again the next day.
He also had to hide playing football from his mother for a time. Then again, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to play.
“Too much hard hitting,” he thought to himself sitting in the stands during a game one day.
Basketball was his game of choice. But eventually he was convinced to play football and he flashed star potential. One problem: He didn’t have the grades to go to a big school. So he traveled the long road to the NFL — two junior colleges, and then one year at South Florida.
The Giants took a gamble on him in the first round of the 2010 draft — a raw player who could be boom or bust.
He has been plenty of boom for the Giants. He has earned the nickname “Haitian Sensation.”
“I made it here and I’m proud to be here,” he said.
During Media Day, I asked him about those Boston Market days. His face lit up, more so than when he talked about football. He seemed proud of that time.
“I did everything,” he said. “I almost became manager.”
“Yeah, I was that good,” he said. “Boston Market taught me a lot. The manager gave up. So I decided to take care of my thing.”
That wasn’t even 10 years ago. Now he’s a key player on a Super Bowl team, a player who excels at one of the premium positions in the NFL and a player who should rake in millions if he stays healthy.
First things first: Playing live in front of his dad for the first time in the biggest football game of them all.
“That’s going to be a great thing knowing that he’s here rooting me on, no matter what,” Pierre-Paul said.