Remembering A Chiefs Hero: Joe Delaney


Thirty-five years ago today, Kansas City Chiefs star running back Joe Delaney died tragically and heroically.

On June 29, 1983, Kansas City Chiefs young shining star running back Joe Delaney died while trying to save three children from drowning in a construction waterhole at a water park in Monroe, Louisiana. Delaney, who could not swim himself, nevertheless dove in to attempt to save the children.

He never made it. He died in the effort. One child made it out on his own, but one died in the pond while another died later at the hospital.

The fact that Joe Delaney was willing to make the attempt, despite that fact he couldn’t swim, is what made him a hero. The fact he died in the attempt made it a tragedy. Joe Delaney was 24 years old.

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Delaney was drafted out of Northwestern State, a Division-1AA school, in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Delaney had rushed for more than 3,000 yards at Northwestern State and scored 31 touchdowns in his career there.

Delaney burst onto the NFL scene with a bang. In his rookie season, he set four team rushing records – most yards in a season (1,121), most 100-yard games in a season (five), most consecutive 100-yard games (three), and most yards in a game (193). He was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year for the 1981 season.

Delaney’s second campaign was cut short by a league-wide strike, and by a detached retina. In eight games, he only amassed 380 yards with no touchdowns.

Whether Delaney was a good football player or not does not change the fact that he was a hero. Don’t take my word for it. The President of the United States at that time thought so too. President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Delaney the Presidential Citizen’s Medal. The then Vice President, George H. W. Bush presented the award personally to Delaney’s family two weeks later.

For anyone interested, Frank Deford, from Sports Illustrated, wrote an incredible and emotional ode to Delaney in November of 1983. Everyone should take the time to read this terrific piece, especially if you are unfamiliar with Delaney and his story. It is worth your time, whether or not you are a Chiefs fan.

Does Joe Delaney belong on the Chiefs’ Mt. Rushmore? No, he does not. Does he deserve our respect, admiration, and for us to spend a moment remembering him? Absolutely, without question. His number 37 has not been officially retired by the Chiefs but no one has worn it since his death. Maybe it is time for the Chiefs to make it official.

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Over the next few days, as we watch television and see all of the examples of players around the world who are not heroes, remember that there are players out there that are truly heroic. Joe Delaney was one such player. Remember him as we approach the 35th anniversary of his tragic death, which is this Saturday. Rest in peace, Mr. Delaney.

(Updated – 6/29/2018)