Grandson's leukemia gives Gibbs new perspective

Joe Gibbs has faced adversity as a Hall of Fame football coach and the owner of a championship NASCAR team. The emotion in his voice as he talks about his 2-year-old grandson fighting leukemia is something else, writes David Newton.

Updated: January 26, 2007, 3:17 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- One could feel the emotion in Joe Gibbs' voice.

"It really puts a different perspective on life. Sometimes you get to thinking about winning football games and races."
-- Joe Gibbs

It wasn't the emotion of an NFL coach coming off the worst season of his Hall of Fame career.

It wasn't the emotion of a Nextel Cup owner excited about the upcoming season with two-time champion Tony Stewart and reigning rookie of the year Denny Hamlin.

It was the emotion of a grandfather whose 2-year-old grandson had just undergone his third chemotherapy treatment for leukemia since being diagnosed with the disease a couple of weeks ago.

"You get caught up in a lot of things," Gibbs said Wednesday as his Joe Gibbs Racing organization participated in the third day of the 2007 media tour. "I know I've been guilty of that. You charge all over the place in football and racing and all the fun things you're going to do.

"Then something like this happens in your family …"

Emotion dripped off Gibbs' tongue as he talked of seeing little Taylor Gibbs coming out of surgery a few weeks ago with tubes hanging out of his body.

He felt the pain that his son, JGR president J.D. Gibbs, and daughter-in-law Melissa, will endure during what will be a three-year process of treatments that can range from chemotherapy to bone marrow transplants.

It made going 5-11 with the Washington Redskins and seeing Stewart miss the Chase for the Nextel Cup seem so insignificant.

It reaffirmed what he so eloquently said 12 years ago when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that a lot of ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things with "the help of the Lord."

"It really puts a different perspective on life," Gibbs said. "Sometimes you get to thinking about winning football games and races. You see something like that happen …

"We're fortunate. I know a lot of people in the world can't even afford to get their babies the best health care they can."

Outside of faith, family is the most important thing to Gibbs. It's more important than the three Super Bowls he won with the Redskins or the three Cup championships he won with Bobby Labonte and Stewart.

It's why he first left the NFL in 1992 to help run the race team with J.D. and his other son, Coy. It's why he refers to the more than 400 people at JGR as family instead of employees.

It's why he can hardly stand the thought of returning to the Washington area to battle the media and fans during the next NFL season while Taylor is battling for his life.

"Yep, yep," Gibbs said when asked whether it would be tough to leave. "I'm just praying everything goes smoothly and we don't have any kind of problems or setbacks, because I think it would affect me."

Gibbs thought he'd come home to relax and enjoy all seven of his grandkids a few weeks ago. Nothing takes him away from the pressures of coaching more.

"It kind of re-energizes him after getting beat up a little bit in D.C.," said J.D., who came straight from the hospital to the media event. "They love Coach. He is great with the kids.

"I [just] wouldn't leave him alone with more than two of them because they would get lost in his care."

Lost?

"He's allowed no more than two," J.D. said with a laugh. "Three kids and you're asking for it."

Joe Gibbs
Terry Renna/AP PhotoJoe Gibbs said going back to Washington will be tough if his grandson Taylor isn't doing well.

Fortunately for J.D., he didn't inherit that quality from his father. But he did inherit the strength and faith that has made Gibbs one of the most respected men in sports.

You could feel that in the way J.D. talked about Taylor's condition so calmly and confidently.

"It emphasizes every day how much I respect J.D. and what he's able to do as a leader and the leadership qualities he's brought from his father," Stewart said.

"J.D. has a large support group. If you had to pick somebody that could deal with it, he would be the first guy."

J.D., like his father, can't put work aside. The Nextel Cup season will begin in earnest in a few weeks when teams report to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500.

But the Gibbses have built their company strong, which is why Joe Gibbs was comfortable leaving it in the hands of J.D. when he returned to the NFL three years ago and why J.D. is comfortable leaving it in the hands of others if he needs to be with Taylor.

"I might not be going to everything," said J.D., who typically attends every race. "If he's feeling well, it's a nonissue."

The success rate for treating Taylor's form of the disease, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is very high. It's even higher in young children, something Gibbs learned when close friend and fellow team owner Rick Hendrick stopped by the hospital the morning after Taylor was admitted.

Hendrick was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996. He has since recovered fully and started the Hendrick Marrow Foundation.

Gibbs considers him a part of his family, the NASCAR family.

"I appreciated Rick coming down," Gibbs said. "[Leukemia is] a different world for me. I didn't know anything about it. You see a baby like that and realize what all has to take place."

You also realize how many friends you've got.

"I was over at J.D.'s and Melissa's, and we've got people pulling up in the front yard," Joe Gibbs said. "You don't even know them, and they're dropping off food and trying to help. We're blessed to have a lot of great friends."

One day, Gibbs will return to work full time with his NASCAR family. It might be sooner than he wants if the Redskins don't start winning.

"I made a commitment to the Redskins, and I have every intention of trying to do that unless the Lord steps in to do something else," he said.

He'll take the same approach with Taylor.

"God made Taylor," Gibbs said. "He belongs to him. We're just going to pray that he keeps his hand on him and takes him through this."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

ALSO SEE