American Football Database
American Football Database
Joe Delaney
No. 37     
Running back
Personal information
Date of birth: October 30, 1958
Place of birth: Henderson, Texas
Date of death: June 29, 1983 (age 24)
Place of death: Monroe, Louisiana
Career information
College: Northwestern State
NFL Draft: 1981 / Round: 2 / Pick: 41
Debuted in 1981 for the [[{{{debutteam}}}]]
Last played in 1982 for the [[{{{finalteam}}}]]
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Rushing att-yards     329–1501
Receptions-yards     33–299
Touchdowns     3
Stats at
College Football Hall of Fame

Joe Alton Delaney (/dɨˈlni/; October 30, 1958 – June 29, 1983)[1] was an American football running back who played two seasons in the National Football League (NFL).[2][3] In his two seasons with the Chiefs, Delaney set four franchise records that would stand for over 20 years.

He was a two-time All-American athlete for the Northwestern State Demons football team, as well as a track and field star. Delaney played two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, and was chosen as the AFC Rookie of the Year in 1981 by United Press International.[3]

Delaney died on June 29, 1983 while attempting to rescue three children from drowning in a lake. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizen's Medal from President Ronald Reagan. While not officially retired, his jersey number while playing for the Chiefs, #37, has not been worn since his death.[3]

Early life

The third of Woodrow and Eunice Delaney's eight children, Joe Delaney was born in Henderson, Texas on October 30, 1958, and attended Haughton High School in Louisiana.[1][3][4] Discouraged by his father from pursuing his dreams of playing football,[5] Delaney became the starting wide receiver by his junior year at Haughton.[3] Major Division I schools that scouted him included Grambling State,[3] Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana State.[6]

Delaney played for Division I-AA's Northwestern State Demons from 1977 to 1980.[7] After telling his coach of his willingness to play football at the collegiate level, Delaney switched to the running back position.[3] He went on to be an All-American selection in 1979 and 1980.[8] While at Northwestern State, Delaney met his future wife, Carolyn, and they had two children by his senior year.[6]

On October 28, 1978, Delaney carried the ball 28 times and gained 299 yards for Northwestern State against Nicholls State University with 263 of the yards coming in the game's second half.[7] Delaney's rushing stats in the second half of the game are an NCAA record. In the same game, he scored four touchdowns, one of which was on a 90-yard run, as he led his team to a 28–18 victory.[3][7][8]

Delaney finished his career at Northwestern State with 3,047 yards rushing, 31 touchdowns, and 188 points.[7] In 1980, his senior season, he was ranked eighth in the nation in all-purpose rushing yards.[7] On November 22, 1980 he played his last game at Northwestern State and the school retired his jersey, number 44, at halftime.[7][8] Delaney was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.[2]

At Northwestern State, Delaney also starred in track. In high school, he ran the 100 yard dash in 9.4 seconds in high school and was on the Northwestern State track and field team, which won the NCAA 400-meter relay in 1981.[3] He holds the school 200 meter dash record with a time of 20.64 seconds.[8][9]

Professional career

Delaney was selected in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.[10] United Press International named him Rookie of the Year of the American Football Conference for the 1981 NFL season after he rushed for 1,121 yards, set four club records, and averaged 80.9 yards a game.[3][8][10] Delaney's effort helped propel the Chiefs to a 9–7 record, the team's first winning season since 1973.[2][9] In his rookie season, he was selected to the 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).[3][10]

After coming off the bench to record 101 rushing yards in his initial NFL action at New England, he ran for 106 yards and registered 104 receiving yards in his first professional start against Oakland.[9] In the Chiefs' October 18, 1981 game against the Denver Broncos, Delaney broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run, but an offside penalty caused the play to be restarted from five yards back. On the second play after the penalty, Delaney scored an 82-yard touchdown,[3][11] the longest rushing play from scrimmage in the 1981 NFL season.[1][10]

Following Delaney's record-setting 196 yard rushing performance against the Houston Oilers on November 15, 1981,[12] Oilers defensive end (and future Pro Football Hall of Famer) Elvin Bethea was quoted in saying:[9][13]

I've played against the best–O.J. Simpson, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and (Delaney) ranks right up there with them...He is great with a capital G.

A strike by NFL players and an eye injury limited Delaney’s playing time in the 1982 NFL season.[8] He underwent surgery to repair a detached retina,[13] and only registered 380 rushing yards in the eight-game shortened season, which the Chiefs finished with a 3–6 record.[1] Delaney averaged 4.6 yards per carry, 9.1 yards per reception, and registered 1,811 all-purpose yards during his career with three touchdowns.[1][14]

Professional statistics

Rushing Receiving Kick returns
Year G Att Yds Avg TD Lg Fum Rec Yds Avg TD Lg Rt Yds TD Lg Avg
1981 15 234 1121 4.8 3 82 9 22 246 11.2 0 61 1 11 0 11 11
1982 8 95 380 4.0 0 36 0 11 53 4.8 0 13 0 0 0 0 0
Source: Pro Football Reference[1]

Death and legacy

Delaney had a lifelong history of helping others,[7] and once paid for the funeral of a former teacher whose family could not afford a proper service.[3] On June 29, 1983, Delaney, who was living in nearby Ruston, Louisiana,[15] went with friends to Critter's Creek, an amusement park at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana. While reportedly discouraging swimming children from venturing too far out in a pond, Delaney dove in to save three children who were screaming for help, floundering in a water hole left by recent construction work.[3][7][14][15] The water hole, which covered two acres and was 20 feet deep,[3][16] was not intended for swimming but to add to the park's aesthetics.[3][17] Despite his inexperienced swimming, Delaney tried to rescue the children:[6][18] One child managed to get out of the water with no harm and another was taken to an emergency room where he later died; police recovered the body of Delaney and one child.[3][7][17] The amusement park has since been closed to the public.[3][7][15]

File:Arrowhead Delaney.jpg

Delaney's name is commemorated at Arrowhead Stadium in the Kansas City Chiefs ring of honor.[5]

Three thousand people attended Delaney's burial and memorial service on July 4 which was held in Haughton High School's sweltering gymnasium.[3][13][16] President Ronald Reagan honored Delaney with the Presidential Citizens Medal on July 15, and it was presented to Delaney's family by Vice President George H. W. Bush.[3][9][10] Reagan's words were:[7]

He made the ultimate sacrifice by placing the lives of three children above regard for his own safety. By the supreme example of courage and compassion, this brilliantly gifted young man left a spiritual legacy for his fellow Americans.

For the 1983 NFL season, the Chiefs honored Delaney by wearing a circular patch bearing a gold eagle and the number 37 on the upper-left chest of their uniforms. Haughton High School also made a park, Joe Delaney Park, in his memory.[10][19] The NCAA posthumously awarded Delaney the NCAA Award of Valor in 1984.[2][14] Louisiana Governor Dave Treen presented the Louisiana State Civilian Bravery Award to Delaney's family following his death.[14]

Delaney's heroism is honored through an award for one of the NFL's best running backs who also demonstrates admirable character and unselfishness, traits that were embodied by Delaney.[8] The award is given annually by

Northwestern State’s football permanent team captains award, the Joe Delaney Memorial Leadership award, is named in his honor, as is the annual spring football game ("Delaney Bowl")[9] and a golf tournament that generates support for the athletic program.[6][8] A permanent shrine honoring him sits under the home stands at Northwestern State's Turpin Stadium and his number 44 jersey hangs in the football offices.[6][8] In Virginia, the Delaney Athletic Conference took its name to honor his memory in the fall of 1983, and today 13 Virginia private high schools comprise the DAC.[9]

A group of Chiefs fans in Kansas City formed the "37Forever Foundation," which works with the American Red Cross to provide swimming lessons for underprivileged children.[6][8][16] The Kansas City Chiefs unofficially retired Delaney's jersey number 37 following his death,[16][18] and he was elected to the team's Hall of Fame in 2004.[2] His name is included in the Chiefs' ring of honor at Arrowhead Stadium.[5][9]

See also

  • List of sports people who have died during their playing career
  • Delaney Athletic Conference


  • Althaus, Bill (2007). The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Kansas City Chiefs: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Kansas City Chiefs History, Triumph Books. ISBN 1-57243-928-9
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Joe Delaney". Pro Football Reference. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Joe Delaney, 2004 Hall of Fame Inductee, Kansas City Chiefs". Kansas City Chiefs official website. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 Deriso, Nick. (2008-06-16). "Pro football player Joe Delaney met an heroic end locally". The News-Star. Retrieved 2008-07-13.[dead link]
  4. Joe Delaney: All authentic football hero. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 6, 1983. Page 18. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Rairden, C.K. (2002-09-24). "Joe Delaney: Don't let the memory fade". The Landmark. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Vernellis, Brian (2003-07-04). "Remembering Joe Delaney: 'I think life would be if he were still around'". Shreveport, LA Times. Archived from freerepublic .com/focus/f-news/940458/posts the original on 2004-09-30. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 "Joe Delaney". College Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9 Northwestern State University Sports Information (2008-02-26). "Northwestern State great Joe Delaney's name will go on NFL award". Championship Subdivision News. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 "Joe Delaney headed for Chiefs ring of honor Sunday". Kansas City Chiefs official website. 2004-09-23. Archived from the original on January 13, 2005. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Althaus, p. 141
  11. "Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs – October 18th, 1981". Pro Football Reference. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  12. "Houston Oilers at Kansas City Chiefs – November 15th, 1981". Pro Football Reference. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Kansas City Chiefs History: 1980's". Kansas City Chiefs official website. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-13. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Chiefs History 1980's" defined multiple times with different content
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 National Collegiate Athletic Association. "NCAA Award of Valor Winners – Joseph Alton Delaney". Retrieved 2008-07-13.[dead link]
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Althaus, p. 139
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Reilly, Rick (2003-07-03). "No ordinary Joe". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Althaus, p. 140
  18. 18.0 18.1 Sangamino, Pat (2001-07-26). "Chiefs should pause to honor a hero". KFOX-TV (El Paso, TX). Retrieved 2008-07-13.[dead link]
  19. "Chiefs Uniform History". Kansas City Chiefs official website. Archived from the original on June 14, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-13.

External links

Joe Delaney at Find a Grave