A 1997 inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame, Joe Delaney was an All-America star in football and track at Haughton High and Northwestern State. He was the 1982 AFC Rookie of the Year as a running back for Kansas City. He set Northwestern's career rushing record with 3,047 yards (5.0 average). Delaney set Demon records in the 100 (10.26) and 200 meters (20.6) and ran the second leg on NSU's 1981 NCAA champion 4x100 relay team.
After being drafted first by the Chiefs in 1981, he won a slot as a rookie starter, was selected to the 1981 Pro Bowl after setting Chiefs' records for most yards in a season (1,121), most yards in a game (193 vs. Houston), most consecutive 100-yard-plus games (three) and most 100-yard games in a season (five). He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 9.1 yards per reception during his brief career.. He and his 1,121 yards rushing still rank among the top 5 rookie totals in NFL history. After that season, it was discovered that he had a detached retina, and his performance dropped off in 1982.
Then on June 29,1983 Joe Delaney, running back for the Kansas City Chiefs drowned after jumping into a pond to rescue three boys who were floundering in the water, He was just 24 years old.
According to newspaper accounts, Joe's love for children had led to his driving a group of neighborhood youngsters to Monroe, Louisiana, from his home in Haughton for a "Kids Day" event sponsored by a local television station.
While at the park in Monroe, Joe responded to cries for help from three children who were floundering in a water hole left by recent construction work. The 24-year-old rushed to their aid and died trying to rescue them. Only one of the three boys was able to make it to shore.
Joe was recovered from the hole after the two children who drowned, and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Joe's story touched even the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan when he awarded Joe and his family The Presidential Citizens Medal for making "the ultimate sacrifice by placing the lives of three children above regard for his own safety".
The medal was presented on the President's behalf at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, July 15 1983 by then Vice President Bush in ceremonies at the Haughton High School gymnasium.
The following is the text of the President's award citation.
"Born with God-given physical talent, Joe Delaney brought distinction to himself and pride to his family and friends by exemplifying the best in sportsmanship as an outstanding high school, college and professional football player. Even more important, he set an example of citizenship off the playing field, as a caring, involved member of his community of Haughton, Louisiana.
On June 29, 1983, Joe Delaney, at age 24, made the ultimate sacrifice by placing the lives of three children above regard for his own safety.
By this supreme example of courage and compassion, this brilliantly-gifted young man left a spiritual legacy for his fellow Americans, in recognition of which I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, do hereby award Joe Delaney the Presidential Citizens Medal."
Louisiana Governor Dave Treen also presented the Louisiana State Civilian Bravery Award to Carolyn Delaney in recognition of her late husband's selfless act.
"Joe's death happened right before training camp. Guys were focused on the football season, and to hear that kind of news, it was devastating, and probably even more so because we expected him to be with us at the time we heard the news," recalled Dave Lindstrom, a defensive tackle during 1978-85 and an active member of the Chiefs Ambassadors, an organization of former Kansas City players.
"One of the things that was so difficult with Joe Delaney's loss was we had no one even closely available to do what he had done," said John Mackovic, who took over as the Chiefs' head coach in 1983 and never got to coach Delaney and is now a college football analyst for ESPN. "Our offense was going to be built around Joe Delaney".
"The way Joe died was so heroic and so tragic," said Tom Condon, a Chiefs guard during 1974-84. "When those little kids needed help, he gave up his life trying to save them. He wasn't a swimmer; he didn't have any business being around water, much less trying to save someone else who was drowning. You just can't put it in words. The man had a tremendous heart; he was special. I never thought he got his just due for what he had done."
Well that due has finally come for Joe Delaney and his family in Louisiana and the Chiefs fans across the country who can finally give recognition to a shining star that fizzled out long before its time.
Today belongs to Joe Delaney.