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Sports Legend Offers Game Plan for Success

By 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2003 – Then-Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs had just won his first Super Bowl when he literally cashed in on the accomplishment. The team's owner awarded him a cash bonus, but later Gibbs learned that the owner would stand to make a lot more money than the paltry $70,000 Gibbs received.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington Redskins, speaks to attendees at a Pentagon prayer breakfast Nov. 20. Listening to Gibbs is Army Maj. Gen. Stanley E. Green, Army deputy inspector general. Photo by 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

More than a decade later, Gibbs entered the world of asphalt ovals, better known as NASCAR racing. After his team won its first major race, Gibbs said he did the math in his head; he had to pay the team and they had wrecked a car during the race.

His earnings? "I was in debt $50,000," Gibbs said, laughing with a full room of attendees at a Pentagon prayer breakfast today, where he was the keynote speaker.

After pointing out that his experiences as a team coach and team owner weren't profitable all the time, Gibbs said, above the din of the chuckling crowd, "My grandbabies are going to play golf!" Golfers, he insisted, keep most of their winnings because they employ only one person: a caddy.

Gibbs, the only man to lead teams to championships in two major sports, delivered a lighthearted and positive address about being successful to an attentive and spiritual crowd. The event, one of four sponsored by Pentagon chaplains throughout the year, was taped for service members overseas, who Gibbs was quick to acknowledge in his opening comments.

"A big thanks to all of you," Gibbs said, adding that people in the United States "go home in peace each night" because of the sacrifices and service of military personnel.

After a humorous and brief introduction by Army Maj. Gen. Stanley E. Green, Army deputy inspector general and self-professed "lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan," Gibbs kept the crowd's attention from his first words.

Gibbs has had great success in the world of professional sports. In 1981, he became the head coach of the Redskins and by 1983 had led them to a Super Bowl victory. In 12 years, he would visit the Super Bowl four times and win three world championships, with three different quarterbacks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

In 1991, while still coaching in the NFL, he pursued his interest in NASCAR racing, a pursuit that later drove him to retire from the NFL in 1993. In only his second year in motor sports, he earned a championship by winning the Daytona 500. His team has twice won the coveted Winston Cup.

"Winning the Daytona 500 in only our second season is like an NFL expansion team winning the Super Bowl in only its second season," Gibbs said.

But while Gibbs is a sports legend on the sidelines and in the pits, he offers unmistakable signs that he is also human. He shared his foibles with the crowd.

As the Redskins prepared for a division playoff game several years ago, and Gibbs prepared to travel to the game with his team, his wife, Pat, began to talk about their two sons and the everyday toils that come with raising children. Gibbs was appalled.

"Hasn't she read the papers?" Gibbs said with a smile. "Doesn't she realize what I'm doing?" he said he asked himself.

He left their home in a huff, upset that his wife was unsympathetic to the challenges he faced the next day, but after some thought, Gibbs phoned his wife.

Raising two kids was far "more important than anything I was doing," Gibbs said. Having children made him realize, in a good way, that life was no longer about him, he said.

Ever the coach, Gibbs approaches life with an unsurprising angle: sports. "Life is a game," Gibbs said. "You and I are players and we're playing the biggest game of all. I love the fact that we're keeping score."

If life is a game, then Gibbs is a utility player. As a coach, team owner, husband, father, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and now author of the book, "Racing to Win," he continues to find ways to reinvent himself to spread his positive message of success and faith.

"Is there a clock ticking in the game of life?" Gibbs asked. "Yes, there is."

But there is plenty of time on the play clock for Gibbs, who long ago left the sidelines but still calls in plays that help people win.

More than a decade ago, Gibbs founded Youth for Tomorrow, a residential foster care, education, and counseling center for at-risk youth. About 86 percent of the children who attend the program commit to a positive lifestyle, he said.

Gibbs closed his address by asking the group to join him in prayer. "When the last tick comes off the clock, you want to say you have won," Gibbs said.

(1st Lt. Steve Alvarez is an Army reservist working for DefendAmerica.mil.)

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