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. $$$$

    We all live with it everyday. GREED !!!

    December 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  2. Resonate

    Well written article.Although, must add that Bible is the best source of advice for living a fulfilled life.

    December 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      sad that you need a book to live a fulfilled life.

      December 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  3. Teddyg

    Good on him. Although I have to say I can't help but notice how many of these 'people of faith' types don't really talk about or show much of their faith until they've made a boat-load of money. Then its all 'Praise the lord."

    December 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  4. ?

    No age.
    Heart is failling, kindeys too, will ____________________ NO !

    December 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  5. Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

    Coach Gibbs is talking more about losing b/c he's relying more on faith in his life than prearation and execution. That's not too hard to figure out.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  6. Jt_flyer

    Have as much fun as you like As long as you find Te imaginary friend in the sky before you die your be just fine. That's why the Late Roman Emperors got baptized on their death beds. Just in case. If there is a God just how ignorant do you think it is?

    December 9, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  7. Charles Spurgeon

    "Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit."—Psalm 28:1.

    cry is the natural expression of sorrow, and a suitable utterance when all other modes of appeal fail us; but the cry must be alone directed to the Lord, for to cry to man is to waste our entreaties upon the air. When we consider the readiness of the Lord to hear, and His ability to aid, we shall see good reason for directing all our appeals at once to the God of our salvation. It will be in vain to call to the rocks in the day of judgment, but our Rock attends to our cries.
    "Be not silent to me." Mere formalists may be content without answers to their prayers, but genuine suppliants cannot; they are not satisfied with the results of prayer itself in calming the mind and subduing the will—they must go further, and obtain actual replies from heaven, or they cannot rest; and those replies they long to receive at once, they dread even a little of God's silence. God's voice is often so terrible that it shakes the wilderness; but His silence is equally full of awe to an eager suppliant. When God seems to close His ear, we must not therefore close our mouths, but rather cry with more earnestness; for when our note grows shrill with eagerness and grief, He will not long deny us a hearing. What a dreadful case should we be in if the Lord should become for ever silent to our prayers? "Lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit." Deprived of the God who answers prayer, we should be in a more pitiable plight than the dead in the grave, and should soon sink to the same level as the lost in hell. We must have answers to prayer: ours is an urgent case of dire necessity; surely the Lord will speak peace to our agitated minds, for He never can find it in His heart to permit His own elect to perish.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      To paraphrase, if you ask for something quietly but don't get it, throw a temper tantrum until you get what you want. Interesting religion christianity. . .

      December 9, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • zometimer

      Cool story bro. LOL!

      December 9, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • what's with all the spurge spooge??

      December 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  8. Rob

    Religion is THE most retarded concept in human history. As well as being a plague a cancer... We must get rid of this phony concept for the sake of human kind.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  9. E

    Evolution is all that is taught in public schools, in USA.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Really? No math, English, social studies, nothing else? That is a problem, but at least they don't teach religion and intelligent design.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  10. Reality

    “Game Plan for Life in the 21st Century:"

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Putting the kibosh/”google” on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    December 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Bob Bales

      We have records of the lives of Abraham and Moses, so there is every reason to believe that they actually existed.

      You don't brlirvr that Easter - that is the Resurection of Jesus Christ happened. But His followers, in the weeks after the supposed event, proclaimed that it had. And so others believed and converted. These other people would have known if what the followers of Jesus was true or not. That they became Christians, at the cost of persecution and often of their lives, is a good indication that they knew it was true - that Easter, in fact, actually happened.

      December 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Bob, If you assume that something's true just because people at the time believed it, you have to assume all sorts of other things are true, from Mormonism to Islam, as all had followers who believed and were aquainted and should have known whether it was true.

      December 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Reality

      Added details as requested:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      December 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.

      The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,


      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      p.168. by Ted Peters:

      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      December 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Bob Bales, we have records for the lives of Bilbo Baggins and Harry Potter but that doesn't mean they actually existed.

      But please do tell us what evidence there is for Abraham and Moses – hopefully more and better evidence than found in The Babble.

      December 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Saraswati: There is a difference. Many people may have known that Joseph Smith said he found golden plates, but probably only a handful knew whether or not he actually did. And if he did, no one could know whether his translation was accurate. In the case of Jesus, we have multiple people (likely a few thousand) believing that Jesus was God based on the things he was said to have done. Since they knew, or at least had good information on, whether he had done these things, it is highly unlikely that they would have risked there lives by professing a belief they knew to be false.

      December 11, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Bob Bales

      "After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      Deckaring Jesus ressurection certainly did nothing to increase the desciples' financial security or standing. Rather, in ensured their deaths. To believe this theory, you must believe the disciples did the following things:

      1. So demoralized by Jeasus' arrest that at least one denied knowing him and more by his death, nonetheless managed to hatch a plan to turn the situation around.
      2. Knowing that those who killed Jesus would no doubt like to kill them, too, nonetheless decided that a good plan was to proclam their association with a known (to them) dead Jesus.
      3. Managed to pull off the feat, even though there was a Roman guard at the tomb specifically to preclude this possibility.
      4. Completely bungled their staging of the Resurection. The proper thing would have been to call the 1st-century version of a press conference at the appointed time to spotlight the empty tomb. Instead, when told of the resurrection, they disbelieved it.
      5. Resisted the temptation to say, when faced with death, "It's obvious you want to destroy Christianity. If you don't kill me, I'll tell you how we did it and where the body is. Then you can produce it, be a hero, and eliminate the movement once and for all."

      Not only is there a lack of evidence for any of these things, they are contrary to what we know of human nature.

      December 11, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  11. wolverinoceros

    Poor guy ... he should hook up with Tammy Baker and go look for pieces of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey !!! LOLLL !!!

    December 9, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  12. Seyedibar

    No clue who he is, but this Joe Gibbs fellow doesn't sound exceptionally intelligent.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  13. pamister

    Give me a break !

    December 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Ok, you don't have to go to church or watch a football game or NASCAR today. You are welcome!

      December 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  14. Ted

    Prior acts were "winning" at coaching a wimpy "sport" on its way out in the few places in the world it ever was popular, in which the players get concussions and those in most of the positions don't need to be in great shape, then being responsible for excessive pollution from burning fossil fuels in obsolete engines. Now he is a con artist selling a god fraud and taking money from stupid, deluded people. That is not a life to celebrate.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • dan

      why comment then?

      December 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

      Awww.....somebody sounds like their NFL bets last week didn't pan out, huh?

      December 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  15. Lechat

    NASCAR: Non Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks

    December 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Ted

      Good one.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Dixie

      The drivers somehow make the word "race" a two syllable word.

      December 9, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  16. ????

    Moonshine + drivers (OLD) made nascar = GOD???

    December 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  17. Thomas Jefferson

    "Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies."

    December 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  18. Willyboy

    NASCAR is an oozing canker sore on society. If you need proof you need only look at the types of folks who claim to be fans. Really all they want to see are crashes, death, things going boom. It's revolting.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  19. Benjamin Franklin

    "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.'

    December 9, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Bob Bales

      Sorry, Mr. Franklin, but faith is not the absence of reason. Faith is belief, in the absence of proof, of what reason says is most likely correct.

      December 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      ....or what reason says is unlikely

      December 10, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  20. The Courts

    They(god) lied at the Dover trial and lost.. quit lying !!!
    Aug. 30, 2012: The genome of a recently discovered branch of extinct humans known as the Denisovans that once interbred with us has been sequenced
    Anyone find fossils of Adam and Eve yet ?

    December 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Portland tony

      Which has a lot to do with Joe Gibbs .....Jeez..It's obvious that the first humans had children........Whether their parents's names were Adam and Eve or Latisha and Devon, you are one of their descendants!

      December 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
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About this blog

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.