A Lott to Do About Nothing: JPP & Ronnie Lott Have Something in Common
— NFL (@NFL) July 8, 2015
When you first saw that Jason Pierre-Paul decided to amputate his index finger to speed up recovery, you thought you were in some weird parallel universe where losing body parts somehow made you a better football player. Either that or you gagged a little.
But some of you, assuming you’re old enough, or a football trivia psycho like myself, might have thought of San Francisco 49ers safety, Ronnie Lott.
For those who aren’t familiar, Ronnie Lott was the number 8 overall pick in the 1981 draft by the 49ers. He started as cornerback and switched to safety, playing 14 years in the NFL, most of that time for the team that drafted him. Over that career, Lott had many accomplishments, including winning four Super Bowls, being named to ten Pro Bowls and ultimately being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. But those are, perhaps, not the most memorable events from his time in the NFL. And the entire JPP thing got me thinking about it again.
In 1985, the San Francisco 49ers came off a 10-6 record and a disappointing loss to the New York Giants 17-3 in the Wild Card game. Understandably, the 49ers were hungry to start the 1986 season and prove they were better than that. And none wanted that more than Ronnie Lott.
Unfortunately, during the last game of the 1985 regular season, against the Dallas Cowboys, Lott’s left pinky finger was accidentally crushed when tackling fullback Timmy Newsome.
Lott had the injury looked at by doctors after the end of the season, but eventually came to only two choices. In April 1986, doctors told him they could operate, graft a bone from the wrist, insert a pin and have him wear a cast for the next eight weeks, risking his ability to be ready for the start of the 1986 season. And his other option? They could amputate it just above the first joint. So what did Lott say? Well, you guessed it, he told them to cut it off. So they did, put it in a cast and asked him to come back three weeks later.
After three weeks, when he had the cast removed, the doctor asked what Lott thought. Lott was stunned:
“[The finger was] the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. I was trying to laugh it off, but I felt sick. I tried to stand up, but I broke into a cold sweat. It was just a total shock. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I should have had the pin put in.'”
Regardless, it worked. Lott went on to set a 49ers record in 1986 with a career-best 10 interceptions, while also recording 77 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two sacks. All with 9 fingers. OK, I guess he had 9 and 3/4 fingers. Still pretty impressive. But although it didn’t impact his performance on the field, the amputation definitely impacted Lott’s outlook:
“We are losing the compassionate side of sports. We’re becoming gladiators. If I ever become a coach, I hope I never lose sight of the fact that players are people. They feel, they have emotions. I could have all of Eddie DeBartolo’s corporations and it isn’t going to buy me a new finger. It has given me a new perspective on life.”
This raises the question whether players go too far to stay on the field. Like saying they feel OK when they have concussion symptoms. Or playing with broken bones or torn ligaments after getting a pain killing injection. But that’s more of a debate for another day.
For today, although you might have had a disgusted reaction to JPP’s decision to amputate his index finger, keep in mind, whether you believe it was the right decision or not, it certainly doesn’t limit his potential on the field.
But one has to wonder if some day, after he retires, he’ll consider the fact that multimillion dollar contracts and Super Bowl victories won’t buy him a new finger.
Guess you’ll have to check back here in another 10 years after we interview future JPP.