They had an experienced, talented team and seemed only to need a tweak here and there to get better. Reggie White would be more than a tweak.
That week, Gibbs disappeared for his usual post-season vacation. He generally would take two trips, one with just his wife Pat, the other with his sons as well. Usually he picked a resort, preferably one on the water where he could jet-ski, swim, run, play tennis, eat and rest.
Yet rest failed to stop his medical problem, and he checked himself into a clinic in Orlando, Florida, for a battery of tests. Worried that something might be seriously wrong, Gibbs was relieved when doctors discovered only a mild form of diabetes. He was ordered to eat better, to exercise more and to be mindful of getting rest.
The medical condition nonetheless had shaken Gibbs badly enough to start him thinking about walking away from football. He had had similar thoughts at other times, but thanks to a series of bad investments early in his head-coaching career, he needed the money. Now he seemed less concerned about money and more about the rest of his life.
"I was thinking more and more about taking a leap of faith, putting it in God's hands," he said. In early March, he gathered his family at a Colorado ski resort and told them that he was quitting football. Actually, he was gauging their reaction, and when his family was fully supportive, his decision seemed to have been made.
He flew back to Washington and told Jack Kent Cooke, who was stunned. As a man in his eighties who never stopped working, Cooke could not fathom retirement. He could not understand how someone who was the best in his field would even consider such a thing. He refused to accept the resignation, ordering Gibbs to take a weekend to think over his decision. Gibbs did that, returning the following week. He told Cooke then that his decision was final.
In a whirlwind 72 hours, Cooke and Casserly accepted the decision and moved forward to hire another coach. Casserly recommended longtime defensive coordinator Richie Petibon, who was widely respected at Redskin Park. Cooke preferred a bigger name, but it was March and all of the big-name coaches already had jobs. So Cooke deferred to his general manager and hired Petitbon.
When the news of Gibbs' retirement leaked out, Washington reacted as if a king had fallen. Perhaps nobody was more shaken than his players.