MARTIN– Joe Gibbs, a 6-4, 310-pound lineman on The University of Tennessee at Martin football team accepted the Bob Carroll Male Athlete of the Year award at the Senior Banquet in late April of 2010, at the Boling University Center on campus and less than 48 hours later he was in Hempstead, N.Y. trying out for the New York Jets.
For the quiet and shy lineman from Brilliant, Ala., an All-American and a two-time All-Ohio Valley Conference selection, life was about to get interesting. Gibbs flew from New York to St. Louis where he tried out for the St. Louis Rams. One week later, Gibbs was in preseason camp with the Rams. His assignment was simple – protect Sam Bradford, the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick.
Gibbs made it through camp and three preseason games. Immediately following the third game, he was released.
Gibbs didn’t know what to do. He lived his dream to play in the NFL. However, the phone was silent. The NFL season was underway and the rookie lineman was on the outside looking in. For Gibbs, a true family guy, he turned to his best friend, his father, Ricky.
The two were closer than most fathers and sons.
“We did everything together,” the young Gibbs said. “We went hunting. We fished. We played golf. He was even a volunteer coach for my high school football team.”
With his dad’s guidance, Joe decided to come back to UT Martin and complete the requirements for his degree in the spring of 2011.
“It took me about a year and a half, but I am glad I did it. Not only did I get my degree, but I had a chance to spend a lot of time with my dad.”
During the fall semester of 2011, Joe was doing his internship with the Skyhawk football team at UT Martin. He offered a familiar face and a big smile to all he came in contact with. Toward the end of the semester Joe learned his father had colon cancer.
Gibbs went back home. This time he could not stop the blitz that life threw at him and his family. Ricky, the elder Gibbs, underwent several chemotherapy treatments before the doctors could do surgery. Mr. Gibbs was hospitalized about six days for surgery. He returned home and after four days the pain was unbearable. He died on Dec. 11, 2011.
Ricky Gibbs, a member of the Marion County (Ala.) Sports Hall of Fame, attended Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama) on a football scholarship and was also on the tennis team. He earned his degree in physical education and biology. In 1981, he became the fourth generation owner of Gibbs Lumber Company.
“I didn’t really know if I was going to pursue it (football),” Joe Gibbs said. “It wasn’t until the first of January that I decided to give it another run.”
With his diploma proudly and properly displayed, Gibbs opted to go north to Canada and the Canadian Football League. He signed a deal with the Edmonton Eskimos. He was all set to play offensive guard, but the Eskimos’ coaches decided that he was better suited for offensive tackle, a position normally reserved for Canadian players. Much like St. Louis, Edmonton released Gibbs right before the season started.
Gibbs returned home and quickly landed a job with an Arena Football League team in Chicago. The gig lasted about two weeks and the team closed up operations. This time around, the job search was easier. Gibbs found a new football home in Nebraska playing in the United Football League (UFL) for the Omaha Nighthawks.
“I was about four weeks into the UFL job and they wanted me to sign a contact,” Gibbs said. “When they called to ask me about the contract, I told them I was going to put it in the mail the next day.”
Whether it was a sign from his father or just a good omen, the power at the Gibbs family home went out the next day and Gibbs did not mail that contract. Instead opportunity knocked. Gibbs got a phone call from the Green Bay Packers inviting him to be on the team’s practice squad.
Since Nov. 19, Gibbs has been a member of the Packers. The Packers are still in the playoffs and are vying for a spot in Super Bowl XLVII.
Gibbs remembers the first time it snowed in Green Bay. “We got about three inches,” he said. “It was no big deal to everyone. I told a couple of the guys if we got three inches of snow back home, the entire town would be shut down until the snow melted.”
Life on the practice squad is not bad, but Gibbs is giving his all to be on an active NFL roster for the 2013 season. He lifts weights on Monday. Tuesday is an off day or an opportunity to get back in the weight room. Wednesdays and Thursdays the day starts at 6:30 in the morning with a workout or meetings. The team has a walk-through and then practices until about 3:30 in the afternoon. Friday starts with meetings and then a “helmet” practice. Saturday, players typically report about 9 o’clock in the morning and spent a couple of hours at another walk through and more meetings. Sunday is game day.
“I was able to go to the Chicago game,” Gibbs said. “I sat in one of the boxes with some of the other guys. At home games we are allowed to stand on the sidelines.”
Because he was invited so late in the year to be a part of the team, Gibbs calls a hotel room in Green Bay home. When he’s not working, Gibbs says he hangs out with Andrew Datko, another young offensive lineman, and quarterback BJ Coleman.
“BJ played at Chattanooga where coach (Geep) Wade and coach (Marcus) Satterfield were, so we have that common bond,” Gibbs said.
Both Wade and Satterfield were part of the UT Martin coaching staff early in Gibbs’ career as a Skyhawk.
Should the Packers season end before the Super Bowl, Gibbs said he would not be discouraged.
“I am going to keep practicing and working hard. I will continue to work out and get the playbook down. I am not through.”
Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers