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December 8th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Winning, by God. Joe Gibbs' third act: Evangelist

By Tom Foreman and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN)—Joe Gibbs moves through pit row at Dover International Speedway with purpose. On this clear day he has three NASCAR teams competing under the banner of Joe Gibbs Racing. The NFL coach and Hall of Fame legend barks encouragement as his teams gather in their fire suits in front of racks of tools.

“We’re due one today! Let’s go!”

Then the team members put their hands together at the center of a circle, Gibbs slaps his on top with the sun catching his Super Bowl ring, and bows his head in a sudden moment of calm before the high-octane storm. “Father thank you for this day,” he begins to pray.

The white hair under his logo covered ball cap is an oddity here. The pits of NASCAR are a young man’s world. Top speed, quick reflexes and raw power are prized.

The drivers are the captains of the cars, but speed and precision of their pit crews – leaping over walls, changing tires and filling gas tanks – is often the difference between winning and loosing.

So what is the 72-year-old Gibbs, well past retirement age, doing amid the chaos and thundering noise?

The same thing Gibbs has always done: He's calling the shots.

“To me, life is so exciting. To me, life is always trying to beat someone in something competitive. It's kinda been my whole life," Gibbs explains while sitting in the sprawling Joe Gibbs Racing Complex in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a recent race.

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He sips on a large green tea, nursing a sore throat he claims is from allergies but is more likely from all the hollering over the racing weekend. Dressed in a polo shirt tucked into khakis, he is fit and trim, likely in better shape than most men half his age. He says he’s as excited now about all he is doing as he was when he was young.

"I really think I am,” he says with a wide, convincing grin.

The rise of Joe Gibbs

Gibbs' rise to sports superstardom began in the 1980s, when he took the struggling Washington Redskins, a team with few stars and even fewer playoff hopes, to not one but three Super Bowl championships, earning the respect of the league and the adoration of fans.

As the cold February rain poured down on fans who came out for the team parade after the 1983 Super Bowl, Gibbs praised their dedication with the enthusiasm that has long made them love him. "There's no other fans in the world who would come out in weather like this except in Washington, D.C.!"

A young mustachioed CNN sports reporter, Keith Olbermann, reported a half-million fans braved the weather for a glimpse of the team, Gibbs and the gleaming Lombardi trophy that day.

“Each one of you has a small piece of this trophy today,” Gibbs yelled into the microphone, pumping the Super Bowl prize for the roaring crowd.

Less than a decade later, he stunned those same fans by turning from football to auto racing, setting up shop in his native North Carolina with admittedly little knowledge of what he was getting into. "I was kind of a novice,” Gibbs said while touring the floor of the JGR workshop. “I was scared to death, you know, 'Can we do this?' "

But Gibbs applied his formula: He worked around the clock, hired great people and relentlessly pushed for perfection. Soon enough the championships started rolling in for his racing teams, too.

Gibbs addresses the media after returning to coach the Redskins

In 2004, Redskins owner Dan Snyder lured Gibbs out of the pits and back to the sidelines. He coached the 'Skins for a four-year stint, helping them get back to the playoffs. But by 2008, Gibbs was ready to go back to racing and he walked away from football for good.

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As an owner, Gibbs' teams have won three NASCAR Cup Series Championships. He talks a lot now about being a small business owner. His racing enterprise employs 450 people and includes the 250,000 square foot facility complete with state of the art garages, offices and gym.

That success in racing makes his latest career turn so unusual, because now he is talking perhaps more than ever before about losing.

When winners are losing

"When people look from the outside, they see you've won Super Bowls, NASCAR championships,” he said. “But what people miss when they look from the outside is, they miss the heartaches and the defeats and the mistakes you've made. And my life is full of them."

In a new edition of the New International Version of the Bible, “Game Plan for Life Bible, NIV: Notes by Joe Gibbs,” and a book of biblical devotions, “Game Plan for Life: Chalk Talks,” Gibbs writes frankly about many of his failures, about how just as his coaching career was soaring he was facing private calamities including a bad real estate deal that had him losing $35,000 a month and spiraling into bankruptcy.

"Bad, bad decisions. Really bad," he explains. “I was broke.”

Gibbs on the sidelines during the height of his coaching career, when he says he was facing personal woes.

Years of neglecting his health were followed by the startling news that he had developed diabetes, which he's now had for two decades; years of choosing work over family led to strained relations. Asked if he would do it all again and sacrifice his relationships with his family, he frankly and quickly says, “No. I look at that as probably one of the biggest mistakes I made in life."

A few years ago he said he took his sons out to out dinner and told them, “Don’t do what I did.”

“I could have organized that a different way. I could have found a way to spend more time with them and I think that’ll be one of the things I really second guess … at the end of my life.”

Finding his faith again

Gibbs says he found comfort amid the turmoil in a renewal of his faith. A life-long Baptist, Gibbs says he’s not fond of denominational distinctions and says he and his wife have always gravitated toward, “Bible-believing churches.”

He became a Christian at a young age, “I made that decision when I was 9 but I spent a part of my life drifting, you know, I was on God’s team but I wasn’t playing for him.”

Church of NASCAR ministers to drivers in a 'life-or-death sport'

He says spiritual mentors like a Sunday school teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and some of his Redskins players helped him get back on track with a deeper, more meaningful Christian faith even while the struggles were at their worst.

“Part of playing the game of life is you’re going to have some losses,” he is fond of saying.

That is why he is sharing his private trials in this public way: so others can understand his belief that even winners lose when they lose their way. He regularly tours the country speaking about his faith at Game Plan for Life Outreach Breakfasts, designed so he can present his faith and help men by “getting off the sidelines and into the game,” the organization says.

"I really want to spend the rest of my life getting out this word, you know, 'What is the right way to play the game of life?' You and I are the players, God's our head coach and we're all playing the biggest game of all."

Those struggles have all made him more introspective, more humble and more inclined to leave the office a little earlier for family time. He now has eight grandchildren.

"If I keep God first in my life, if I keep my family and friends as second, and then I keep my occupation third,” he said, “that's when I've found success."

But make no mistake: Joe Gibbs still preaches the gospel of winning and he still thinks that's part of God's plan for him, too.

Ask him how long he’ll keep coming to the office, stomping through the pits and sharing his testimony, "I think you're asking the wrong guy on that one. I think you need to ask the Lord on that one. I think you know at some point I'll probably run out of gas, but man, right now I feel like I've still got a full tank. I'm still going."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

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soundoff (978 Responses)
  1. Gas and Beer

    Atheists seem to be the most easily-offended people on the planet. They're foaming at the mouth, taking a news story about a man's faith and turning it into an argument that there is no God.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Dana

      You can't honestly believe the universe was created a few thousand years ago, people were created by some magical rib by an invisible guy, talking snakes, parting water, etc. Wake up and stop spreading this absurd religious nonsense. The world would be much better off.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • visitor

      You are spamming.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • sam stone

      As opposed to theists taking a guy carrying a ball over a chalk line to indicate that not only is there a god, but he cares about a particular team's success?

      December 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  2. Joe

    5th paragraph: "winning and LOOSING" ??

    Proofread!

    December 9, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  3. James

    Why all the hate for a guy and his faith? Just because he believes a certain thing doesn't give non believers the right to just attack his faith and call it names. You atheists want to scream from the highest mountain that tere is no god, but can't take us believers doing the same f

    December 9, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Dana

      It's just total nonsense with no proof. You people don't know how silly you sound.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • visitor

      It's because of the arrogant preaching. Don't like the responses? It is Sunday go to church. You won't read or hear them.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • James

      The same thing with us saying we do believe in God. Just quit. Your never going to be the majority here in America, this is a Christian country.. I for one hate when Christians go after non believers too. It's your own personal decision, and nobody should try and influence it one way or another. My belief is that I'm here to treat everyone, regardless of there religion or anything else as equals.. And one day we will all be judged for how we spent our times here in the flesh.. I think even of your a non believer, that should still ring to some degree.. Even if you don't believe that a definite "God" will judge your soul, why spend your time trying to prove other people wrong, while attacking their faith.. Find something better to do with your lives..

      December 9, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • visitor

      How about this: Any Christian preaching to a child that their eternal soul will burn in Hell if the child doesn't join their "team" is a child abuser.

      One person's faith is another person's abuse. Who exactly preaches again?

      December 9, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • sam stone

      you are right. him having faith does not mean that others have a right to assault that faith. of course, him publicizing that faith does give others that right. this s a public forum, james.

      December 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • JJ

      Hey Christians, I hear ya. We members of the Flat Earth Society get laughed at and ridiculed all the time too by all those smarty pants know it all types. Those "rational" science lovers with their demand of evidence, etc. Just ignore them. They'll find out one day that we're right when they are out for a walk one day and fall off the edge of the Earth. Then we'll see who's laughing.

      December 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  4. Peteyroo

    Another useless Republican imagining he knows what's best for everyone else.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  5. sybaris

    Religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind

    December 9, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  6. Dan

    For his next act, he will con people out of 10% of their income by getting them to believe in an imaginary friend.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      He's probably interested in more sponsorship money – racing ain't cheap!

      December 9, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • visitor

      Well to paraphrase Gilda Radner, your don't have to be a Bible-totin' holly roller, but "it couldn't Hurt".

      December 9, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  7. Sharon Wilbur

    I remember an article in the newspaper years ago how Joe Gibbs would put on the full armor of God every morning. He would put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. I will never forget his testimony.

    Ephesians 6:10-18

    December 9, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • heywaitaminit

      I used to put on the cape of Superman, the belt of Batman, the gloves of Spider-man, and the ring of Green Lantern. I was also 7.
      1 Corinthians 13:11

      December 9, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Damocles

      I think you people are looking too much into what he was doing. Clearly he was simply playing a rousing game of D&D, probably had some friends that spent the night so they could pick up the campaign right where they left off. Obviously his mention of this supposed putting on of holy artifacts is his way of letting his DM know what his level 45 paladin of Tyr was going to do.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  8. Gawd

    It must be make-believe day again.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  9. jorge washinsen

    A good Republican I feel sure. I wonder if he wakes up in the middle of the night hating himself for keeping working making jobs and adding to the economy when he could sit down and quit?

    December 9, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  10. Bayousara

    Two things I don't like about NASCAR, although I watch the races. One is the praying and the other is the heavy emphasis on the military. Neither has anything to do with car racing! I also hit the mute button when the nerve racking national anthem is sung. A song about war, written about a battle during the War of 1812 between the US and Britain which was a dismal failure for both sides. But I love Jeff Gordon and Dale, Jr. and admire Danica.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      Cut it off till the festivities are over. There is always a simple answer to most difficult problems.As Rodney King said."lets just try to get along."

      December 9, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • visitor

      Indeed. I have relatives that grew up and live overseas and love racing. They were really excited to go to Daytona, but were way way taken aback by the military displays. I was embarrassed and tried to explain that we aren't all like that, and NASCAR goes out of its way to exhibit ostentatious displays of military patriotism, and tie that to their car race. It made them uncomfortable, like they ended up in some Hollywood movie full of bad American stereotypes.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Canadian Military

      @ Bay – it wasn't a dismal failure for both sides -just for the Americans. You know what happened when Americans tried to invade Canada? We kicked American a-ss all the way back to Washington then burned down your White House! Don't fvck with a Canuck!

      December 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Yes, but the USA got Canada back by killing several Canadian military in Afghanistan.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. visitor

    "I was on God’s team but I wasn’t playing for him.”

    It is hard for me to articulate how sour it is for me to read how some Christian's think. They are on God's team no matter what they do. Non-Christians can walk on water but they aren't on "God's Team". Arrogant hypocrites segregate themselves out on teams from the rest of humanity the first place.

    Football mentality meet Christianity. "Winning Souls". Prayer War. A boy's God.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Sisyphus

      Just another case where someone who has some success in life thinks that what they believe somehow deserves attention.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. bigfoot

    Thank you Bob Costas for speaking up for responsible gun control and for finally taking a stand against the completeIDIOTS seeking to destroy our nation with their fascist ideology.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • jorge washinsen

      Now if we could get the worst killer off the road,passenger cars.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  13. treblemaker

    It takes a man to come to terms with his mistakes-and we all make them. The greater the man, the greater the mistake. He may be evangelizing for one reason-and that is to find peace of mind, heart, and spirit for himself. I have no comment to give to any person who does not believe in the existence of the almighty God. That's OK if you don't for now, but once you start to realize your mortality is approaching the "4th quarter" of your time on earth, every one of you that will be searching for the true meaning of life will be racing to God asking for forgiveness of your "mistakes" (SINS!). For all those who quote Bible scripture using it as a hammer to force your godless belief on us, you will be held to account more than all of us undeserving sinners who realize our mistakes and try to live life the best way that we can as we follow the path back home to God as set forth by the JEWISH Messiah.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Sisyphus

      I don't plan on using my "fourth-quarter" cowering in fear because having abandoned religion, I no longer have any fear.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Brett

      That's right. You will save all of your fear for the "Fifth" quarter

      December 9, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • visitor

      You are wrong. In fact, I know someone where it was the opposite. He finally decided the heck with all of it weeks before his passing, and even disallowed any religion at his memorials. After years of trying, he made up his mind with no fear.

      'Every one of you..." shows how narrow minded you are. It is because of people like you that so many don't want to be on your "team". Your team is full of a bunch of religious jocks. We left you behind in high school.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Peteyroo

      TroubleMaker, there is no God, no Jesus, no unicorns, no leprechauns, no Tooth Fairy, no Santa Claus, etc. It's all nonsense.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • John_DD

      You've obviously live a charmed life of privilege, if you believe people worry about their mortality in the 4th quarter of their lives. Many people deal with questions of mortality from their earliest memories. Sickness in the family, sudden unaexpected loss. You are just another mean Christian that gets off on insulting everybody that doesn't believe like you.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • visitor

      By the way, team-boy, it is people like you that convinced this one person that he wanted nothing to do with any of you. God? Fine and good. Ya'll? No. You confuse yourselves with the Universe, and there are millions who really are getting sick and tired of your cheerleading for your "team", like the Universe is concerned with a game where a soul is a football and on one side there is God and the other there is Satan.

      We are growing up.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • sam stone

      your empty proxy warnings are only relevant to those who accept your (version of) god. to the remainder of us, they are the signpost of a weak argument

      December 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  14. jim bob

    God Bless him.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Which god?

      December 9, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Pete

      The Hebrew God dummy. Phfft.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Peteyroo

      JimBoob, I say leprechauns bless him. No, wait. Santa Claus bless him. Or maybe the Tooth Fairy. Take your pick.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Gawd

      That's nonsense.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      jim bob is jewish?

      December 9, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • heywaitaminit

      Nike, the greek goddess of victory, of course. Also she hands out awesome sponsorships.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  15. ReasonableXX

    There goes any small shread of respect I had for him as a coach.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Tim

      That's still more respect than anyone has ever given you in your life

      December 9, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  16. NorthVanCan

    I blame religion for ALL of the worlds problems. But man, I have to hand it to this guy, he's got some mojo .

    December 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • max

      well said,science took us to the moon,religion took it through buildings

      December 9, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  17. dave

    Just what the world needs, another snake oil salesman, another tired old con artist using his public profile to make money to soft minds selling fire and brimstone. How sad.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  18. Johnnie Rotten

    Way to go Joe! Love you're humility and service to God, business family and men in this world!

    We'll chat more on the other side!

    Keep on serving Him!

    December 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Peteyroo

      JohnnyRatan, there is no other side. The magic has run out.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  19. Global Mens Group

    'Dose of Reality' ... that's a pretty clever Top Ten about Christians List. The BIG QUESTION here clearly is IS the God of the Bible the God of the world? Joe Gibbs says so ... cool, he does have an impressive life story. More importantly, here's some further thoughts from the God of the Bible (Old Testament Bible Verses) on whether there is "A God of the World -or- a world of the gods" ... link: http://www.globalmensgroup.com/bible-verses-on-the-Christian-God-the-God-of-the-Bible/. (no advertisements, just content). God says, “There is no other God beside Me!”.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Actually, your alleged god allegedly said "You shall have no other gods before me" which indicates "he" was aware of other gods, assuming "he" or any other god(s) actually exist.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Sisyphus

      You are only proving him right

      December 9, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • tim schmidt

      Atheists seem to be the most easily-offended people on the planet. They're foaming at the mouth, taking a news story about a man's faith and turning it into an argument that there is no God.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  20. Money

    They(god) lied at the Dover trail and lost.. quit lying !!!

    December 9, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • mama k

      Where is the Dover trail. Is it a bike trail?

      December 9, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Bob

      mama k, it's an obvious typo... act your age.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • mama k

      Or perhaps you mean trial. As in,

      In the legal case Kitzmiller v. Dover, tried in 2005 in a Harrisburg, PA, Federal District Court, "intelligent design" was found to be a form of creationism, and therefore, unconstitutional to teach in American public schools.

      Travel further up I81 and just north of Scranton, PA, you'll be in the place from which the case Abington School District v. Schempp arose, leading to the SCOTUS decision in 1963 declaring mandated Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Money

      opps trial they LOST !!! PERIOD.. Stop lying.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:35 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.