CHARLOTTE – In his previous life as Hall of Fame football coach, Joe Gibbs spent countless hours on NFL practice fields.
Gibbs runs in different circles now as a successful NASCAR team owner, but Wednesday he took in an NFL practice for the first time in years, making the rounds at the Panthers' next-to-last OTA of the offseason.
"I haven't been in gosh, I don't know how many years it's been," Gibbs said. "But when you get around football like this, I love it and everything that's going on."
Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls over a 10-season span as head coach of the Washington Redskins that began in the early 1980s, still has football in his blood, and a familial connection steered him toward Panthers practice. His oldest grandson, Jackson, will be in his first season as a quarterback at UCLA this fall. Jackson and his younger brother Miller – a wide receiver at Charlotte Hough High School where Jackson starred last season – attended practice with their famous grandfather, now 76 years old.
"First, he's my grandpa. He's never pushed football on me, but I just love it," Jackson Gibbs said. "And it doesn't hurt that he's a Hall of Fame coach. He's helped me so much along the way."
The visit was arranged via a friendship between Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Out at practice, Joe Gibbs liked what he saw and loved who he got to see.
"I thought it was a spirited workout," Gibbs said. "I was telling Donny, 'They're getting a lot done. This is really impressive.'"
Gibbs was referring to Don Warren, a pro scout for the Panthers who in his playing days was an original members of the "Hogs," spending all 14 of his NFL seasons playing tight end for the Redskins. He was a member of all three of Gibbs' championship teams.
Gibbs also caught up with Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown, a veteran of 20 NFL seasons who won one Super Bowl ring with Gibbs. Brown has the distinction of having played for Gibbs during both his first stint as Washington's head coach (1981-92) and his second stint (2004-05).
"He's a man with great integrity, a man who has had as great an influence on my life as any man outside of my dad and my father-in-law," Brown said. "It's not just football; it's life."
Brown said he last saw Gibbs about four years ago when he hosted a reunion of the Super Bowl teams at his racing headquarters just up the road in Huntersville, N.C.
"I talk to people around him," said Brown, who is friends with Gibbs' son. "But man, it's refreshing to see him on the football field."
View photos from the third week of Carolina's organized team activities.