Gibbs Draws Inspiration From Grandson's Fight

Former Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey previews Washington's upcoming season finale against Dallas. Video by Atkinson & Co.Editor: Jonathan Forsythe/
By Mike Wise
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The little boy knew the shot was coming. That's what made Joe Gibbs wince the most.

Taylor lay across his mother's torso, waiting for the doctor's needle to inject anesthesia into the small port surgically cut into his tiny, 2-year-old chest. The child seemed to make himself a bargain: If he could just withstand the pain he could get all better, go home and take a walk with grandpa.

Before another round of treatment to tame the leukemia in his body -- before the chemotherapy borrowed his blond locks and the steroids made the boy bloated and ornery -- Taylor Gibbs looked at his grandfather bravely as the medicine put him to sleep.

"He'd get the shot in his port and he'd go, 'Oh no,' " Gibbs said.

Gibbs grew quiet as he recalled his grandson's odyssey this past year. He stood and walked behind the desk of his Ashburn office to retrieve a photo of the youngster, which he put next to him on the sofa.

"It about broke your heart," he said. "He would just be layin' there, across Melissa's chest. He knew what he had to go through and just accepted it."

Gibbs had seen fortitude up close before, but it usually came from the professional football players he coached, special athletes who did not want their leader to see them as weak or feeble in the face of injury. So they played on, through incredible physical pain.

But Taylor was something else, this little child combating this awful disease that sent Gibbs's circle of family and friends reeling last January when the leukemia was diagnosed. Within a month after taking the feverish and pale child to a family physician, they found out that Taylor's strain of the disease, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, fell in the middle range of seriousness and that a great success rate for survival was possible.

But the protocol phase of recovery -- eight months of intense medical treatment -- followed. And sandwiched between came a major scare. Taylor's white blood cell count fell last spring, leading to a retest. "Twenty-four hours of not knowing," said J.D. Gibbs, Taylor's father and Joe Gibbs's eldest son. "It was a really bad sign. We all went through that."

The boy is 3 today and doing much better. His spiky blond crop has returned. He doesn't have to live in the family's basement in North Carolina, either, where Melissa Gibbs would often spend seven hours straight with her ailing son. He can now come up and play freely with his three older brothers.

On Sunday, he will be at FedEx Field to see if the Washington Redskins can beat the Dallas Cowboys and go to the playoffs. Actually, that's inaccurate. Taylor is coming to see his grandpa, the 67-year-old man whom a little boy taught more about hope and resilience than any player Joe Gibbs has ever coached.

"I just remember the courage he had," Gibbs said. "You think about courage and you think about adults and tough guys. Me being a tough guy, things like that. Here was a little guy that was 2, knowing when he got in the car to go to that hospital what was going to happen."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company