- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

Joe Gibbs is returning to the NFL after a 10-year absence, but this time with the Atlanta Falcons.

Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winner with the Washington Redskins and now owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, yesterday signed a deal with new Falcons majority owner Arthur Blank to become a minority owner.

Gibbs, 61, will share 5 percent of the club with Atlanta real estate executive John A. Williams and former Falcons minority owner John P. Imlay Jr. in a deal valued at $27million. Gibbs will have no direct role in the Falcons' football operations but will serve as a consultant in addition to equity holder.

"Joe is as knowledgeable about the game of football as anybody on the planet," Blank said. "Football is something I don't think you ever really retire from, and I think he'll enjoy being engaged again."

The transaction is subject to approval by the NFL and may be discussed at the league's annual meeting next week in Orlando, Fla.

Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, has known Gibbs since 1999, when the company signed on with Gibbs Racing as a sponsor for a car driven by Tony Stewart.

"I really got to know Joe well, and when I purchased the team in December and it became time to assemble a team to re-energize this franchise, I knew I had somebody just up the road in Charlotte who had a passion for the game and shared the same values I did," Blank said.

Gibbs was not available for comment yesterday. His two sons, Coy and J.D., will face each other this weekend in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in Darlington, S.C.

Gibbs who left the Redskins following the 1992 season and now operates two successful NASCAR racing teams has flirted with a return to the NFL before. In 1998, Gibbs joined Arizona developer Sam Grossman's unsuccessful bid to buy the Washington Redskins as an adviser.

After current owner Dan Snyder prevailed over Grossman, he offered the team's coaching job to Gibbs, even traveling to Daytona to lobby him. However, Gibbs declined.

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