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WOODY: J.D. Gibbs’ death brings parents’ worst fear to Gibbs family

January 13, 2019

Joe Gibbs loves to tell a good story, and there were two he enjoyed about his older son, J.D.

The first year J.D. was old enough to work at training camp for the Washington Redskins, the team his father coached, the elder Gibbs went several days without seeing his son away from the practice fields.

One afternoon, as Gibbs rounded a corner, he practically had a head-on collision with his fast-moving son. Young J.D. was laughing, Gibbs recalled, and looked as if he hadn’t slept for several days. Gibbs shook his head and smiled.

Then, there was the first day of football practice at Oakton High School. J. D.’s plan was to play quarterback.

When the elder Gibbs arrived home that day, he asked how practice had gone.

“Great,” J.D. said.

“What position are you playing,” Joe asked.

“Center,” J.D. said without a mention of quarterback and without a hint of disappointment.

“Center?” his father thought, never mentioning the quarterback idea.

Eventually, J.D. Gibbs played quarterback at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia.

He played defensive back at William & Mary.

Then he entered the family business that wasn’t football — Joe Gibbs Racing. He married and started a family.

And that gave J.D. a story to tell about his father.

He used to never see his dad away from the office or racetrack, J.D. said, until his first child, Joe’s first grandchild, was born, Jackson Gibbs, named for his grandfather, Joe Jackson Gibbs.

“All of a sudden, he’s coming up with excuses to stop by the house every night,” J.D. said, and it was his turn to smile.

The worst thing that can happen to a parent is losing a child to an illness or accident.

Children, no matter their age, are not supposed to die before parents. It is not the natural order of life.

The worst thing that can happen has occurred in the Gibbs family. J.D., the heir apparent to the leadership at Joe Gibbs Racing, died Friday from complications following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.

He was 49, husband of Melissa and father of four sons.

One reason Joe Gibbs started his race team was to make it a family business. He envisioned a time when his sons and their wives and children would live nearby in Charlotte, N.C., and all would be involved with the race team. That dream came true.

J.D and his dad even coached a sandlot football team together. Joe, in a departure from his NFL days, coached defense. J.D. ran the offense.

After one loss, J.D. told his defensive coordinator the team could have used some help. Joe said something similar about the offense.

Both had a good laugh.

J.D. was the president of JGR when the team announced in 2015 that he would step back from his involvement in racing to focus on the treatment for his neurological problem. Despite all the efforts of the doctors and prayers from friends, fans and the Gibbs’ family, who have a deep religious faith, there was nothing anyone could do.

J.D. Gibbs was a bright, personable young man. He drove professionally, but rather quickly moved to the business side of the operation.

He moved through the ranks, going from an “over the wall” pit crew member to the top of JGR’s operation.

J.D. had an eye for talent. After watching Denny Hamlin test-drive cars JGR was considering buying, J.D. told his father Hamlin was a driver they needed to consider adding to their team.

JGR signed Hamlin, J.D. was listed as the owner, and Hamlin has become one of the top drivers on NASCAR’s highest circuit. He has 31 victories at the Cup level and appears to be driving to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Hamlin said via Twitter: “His car. His number. His signature above my door. I will always be grateful for what his family did for mine and the opportunity he gave me 14 years ago. Now more than ever #doitforJD.”

When Joe Gibbs was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he ended his acceptance speech by saying, with a big smile, “I just want to thank everybody, because I got it all.”

He was talking about four Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl victories, multiple playoff appearances, the acclaim and financial security from professional sports. Even more, he was talking about the time with and closeness of his family, something he had been fearful he had sacrificed for football.

Today, Joe Gibbs would give up all he has accomplished in football and racing to have his son again.

Any father, every parent would.

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