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By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, January 12, 2008

When Joe Gibbs went home to Charlotte last weekend after the Redskins lost to Seattle in the NFC playoffs, there was a birthday party for his 3-year-old grandson, Taylor, who has spent the last year battling leukemia. For others in the family, it was a celebration of the child's brave and so-far successful cancer treatment, with a video showing his progress. But as Gibbs watched, he noticed something.

"I realized I had missed almost everything," he said by telephone yesterday. "I wasn't there."

During the visit, Gibbs spoke with his son Coy, who left his job as a Redskins assistant to start a motocross venture. "We got off to a rough start. Coy was down," Gibbs said. "I told him, 'When we got into NASCAR, remember how we got kicked for a year?' " Gibbs realized, "There are probably ways in which I can be there" for Coy.

Gibbs and older son J.D., who now runs the successful Joe Gibbs Racing team, talked about the huge transition from the team's sponsorship deal with Chevrolet to being the first NASCAR team backed by Toyota. Joe Gibbs Racing also was adding a third driver, creating more expense and risk and complicating the always delicate issue of team chemistry. "That's a huge deal for the family," Gibbs said.

Making him feel worse, Gibbs realized that his whole family was willing to put his ego and his ambitions first, as it always had, by encouraging him to return to coach the Redskins for another season. His young grandchild is confronting a life-threatening disease. One son is opening a new business. Another is facing major changes to his business. One daughter-in-law is pregnant. Yet nobody pressed good ol' Joe to give up the NFL.

How many balls were up in the air in North Carolina? How much pressure was on everybody?

"One of the girls [daughter-in-laws] quit her job," Gibbs said, softly. Too many tasks, not enough hands. But Joe, who already was in the Hall of Fame, could spend 100 hours a week for eight months at a time on worrying about the Redskins.

Everybody else was circling the wagons on the home front. Where the devil, so to speak, was he?

Finally, Gibbs had to come to terms with his own emotions. Since Taylor became sick, Gibbs's wife, Pat, had spent almost all her time in Charlotte. "The last year, we were pretty much separated. That's been hard," Gibbs said.

At 67, with millions in the bank, how many nights can you listen to Don Breaux, one of Gibbs's longtime coaching lieutenants, chew ice during coaches meetings, then go to bed at 3 a.m. after the trash trucks roll into Redskins Park?

So now that he's quit the Redskins, retired for good and gone back home, have he and Pat had a moment alone?

"That's tonight," Gibbs said, delightedly. "We're going to go out to dinner." Together. Alone.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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