Joe Delaney: A great back, a better man


Tragedy does not pick favorites. It can – and will – touch all of us, some in more devastating ways than others. For former Kansas City Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, tragedy found him at the same time of heroism. It was a mix of a terrible moment at a Louisiana watering hole on June 29, 1983, and the best humanity has to offer. It was a man laying down his life, in order to save another.

Ultimately, Delaney gave up his potential, his family, his last breath, to save a human being he did not know.

For those unaware of the story, Delaney burst onto the scene with the Chiefs in 1981. Kansas City had been one of the worst franchises for the better part of a decade, failing to make the playoffs since the Christmas Day loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1971.

Delaney came from small Northwestern State as a second-round pick and became the 1981 UPI Rookie of the Year, rushing for 1,121 yards on 4.8 yards per carry. Delaney was also named to the Pro Bowl. After a strike-shortened 1982 campaign, Delaney was enjoying his summer off prior to the 1983 season when he was down at Chennault Park in Louisiana.

On the day, three children wandered into a watering hole. Unfortunately, the hole had a steep drop-off, and the children began frantically flailing for help. Despite not being able to swim, Delaney rushed to their aid, leaving his wallet behind and jumping into the water. Delaney, and two of the three boys, never came up.

Delaney has since had his name put into the Chiefs Ring of Honor, and his number 37 has never been worn again. It remains a source of great sorrow and pride in Kansas City, a man too great of spirit to live, a man so heroic he died.

There have been legions of powerful stories published on the tragedy, ranging from a piece recently written by Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star to this spellbinding column by Rick Reilly, formerly of Sports Illustrated.

Last year, did a wonderful documentary about Delaney’s life and career, and ultimately his untimely death. It’s a fantastic watch, but have tissues on hand.

Finally, there will reportedly be a 30 for 30 documentary produced by ESPN about Delaney that is coming out in August, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. This is so nice to hear, because it means more people will understand the true greatness of Delaney for the person he was.

Rest in peace, Joe. You’ve earned it.