This weekend’s untimely death of Titans-Ravens quarterback Steve McNair brings to mind the tragic deaths of several Chiefs. Most Chiefs fans do not recall the name of Edward “Stone” Johnson. Stone Johnson was a finalist in the 200 meter and the 4×100 relay in the Rome Olympics in 1960. In 1963, the Chiefs had moved from Dallas to Kansas City and Johnson was a rookie running back from Grambling. Johnson broke his neck during an exhibition game against the Raiders in Wichita. Unfortunately, he died several days later on September 8,1963.
Mack Lee Hill was a rookie free agent from Southern University in 1964. He made the roster that season and became the team’s second leading rusher . He capped his season by playing in the AFL All-Star Game. The following season he built on his rookie success until injuring his knee in a game against the Bills. Mack Lee Hill died while undergoing knee surgery on December 12, 1965. The Chiefs have honored his memory by retiring his number, 36, and naming the rookie of the year award after him — The Mack Lee Hill Award.
Joe Alton Delaney was a second round draft pick in 1981 and was named Rookie of the Year of the American Football Conference after rushing for 1,121 yards. 1982 was a difficult year for the Chiefs, the NFL and Joe Delaney. During a strike shortened season, Delaney underwent surgery to repair a detached retina and rushed for only 380 yards. Twenty six years ago Joe Delaney attempted to rescue three young boys screaming for help. The children were floundering in a sink hole left by the construction of a nearby amusement park.
Unfortunately, Mr. Delaney could not swim and police recovered the body of Delaney and one child. Joe Delaney was buried 26 years ago Saturday. He is honored by the Chiefs as his number has been unofficially retired and his name is in the Ring of Honor. Chiefs fans have honored his memory by the formation of the “37Forever Foundation,” which works with the Red Cross to provide swimming lessons for underprivileged children.
Jim Tyrer was an All-American offensive tackle at Ohio State. In 1961, he signed with the Dallas Texans. During the next 12 years he set the standard for excellence for offensive lineman, making the American Football League All-Time Team. After retirement and beset by business failures, Tyrer shot his wife and committed suicide on September 15,1980.
On a cold icy January afternoon, Derrick Thomas was driving his Suburban fo catch a plane at KCI. Thomas abruptly lost control behind the wheel and was ejected from the vehicle, resulting in severe spinal cord damage. While being hospitalized at a rehab hospital in Florida, he died due to a blood clot to his lungs. Derrick has been honored by the Chiefs by his placement in the Ring of Honor and the retirement of his number. In August, Derrick Thomas will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Johnson, Hill, Delaney, Tyrer and Thomas all died prematurely — and tragically. Let us remember our fallen heroes as we enter the New Arrowhead and read the roll call of the Ring of Honor. At the same time, let us appreciate the new heroes draped in red and gold. After all, it’s long been apparent that the lifespan of an NFL player can often be shorter than it should be.