Every year on June 29th, we remember Joe Delaney.
Delaney was a rising star with the Chiefs and was just 24-years old when he drown tragically attempting to save some youngsters from the same fate.
Frank Deford, then of Sports Illustrated wrote a beautiful and chilling article about the incident. I read it ever year and every year I am struck by just how unselfish Mr. Delaney was that day.
There was a huge hole there, carved out of the earth some time ago. The hole had filled with water, and three boys waded in. They didn’t know it, but a short way out the bottom dropped off precipitously, and suddenly the boys were in over their heads and thrashing and screaming. There were all sorts of people around, but only Joe dashed to the pond. There was a little boy there. “Can you swim?” he asked Joe.
“I can’t swim good,” Joe said, “but I’ve got to save those kids. If I don’t come up, get somebody.” And he rushed into the water.
One boy fought his way back to the shallow part. The other two didn’t. Neither did Joe Delaney, 24. He was hauled out a few minutes later, dead. He gave his own life trying to save three others.
God rest his soul.
God rest his soul indeed.
I’ve never subscribed to the thinking that professional athletes have a responsibility to serve as role-models for young people. I believe people should be able to live their lives the way they want, regardless of their high-profile positions in our society. Obviously those that choose to can do a lot of good but I’ll never believe that it is anyone;s job other than mine to set an example for my kids.* That being said, what Joe Delaney did that day goes far beyond setting an example. He made the ultimate sacrifice for a couple of kids he never met. He ran into almost certain death that day and he didn’t think twice about it.
That is more than setting an example. That is superhero stuff. That is something that all of us, even 29 years later, can sit back and marvel at.
*I don’t have children but I did have a turtle once. I assume caring for a turtle and a child aren’t so different.
Chiefs players have a bit of a tradition of heroics. Former TE Tony Gonzalez once saved a man from chocking to death in a Kansas City restaurant and last offseason, TE Leonard Pope saved a child from drowning while attending a pool party.
We all became Chiefs fans for a number of different reasons. Some were born and raised in Kansas City. Others, like myself, grew up in other parts of the country and had our imaginations captured by Joe Montana and the Marty teams of the 90s.
He died a year before I was born but I would venture to guess that there are a number of folks out there that became Chiefs fans because of Joe Delaney.