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Joe Delaney

Don't let the memory fade

Posted 9-24-02

by CK Rairden
Landmark columnist

"If this just saves one child… will all be worth it.”

It’s been stated a thousand times, usually as rhetoric with no substance. I know a substantive story where one child was saved, at a cost most would not be willing to bear.

A bit over 19 years ago, a young 24-year old man had everything going for him. His career had taken off, he had a loving wife and three children and his future was mapped out in the National Football League.

On June 29, 1983 that all changed with three children’s cries for help. At Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana this young NFL athlete answered a call to be extraordinary.


Joe Delaney had beaten all the odds for his entire life. Discouraged by his father to pursue his dreams of playing football, Joe went on to star at the small college of Northwestern State University. He was noticed by the Kansas City Chiefs and selected in the second round of the 1981 draft.

He rewarded the Chiefs franchise, then at a lowly state throughout the league, with a record setting performance. He gained over 1,100 yards, played in the Pro Bowl, and was named the team MVP. In 1982, the strike-shortened season interrupted what was surely to be Delaney’s second season of many successful campaigns in the NFL.

The strike was settled and the Chiefs held hope for 1983, with plans for Delaney to return as the team’s star running back. Then fate stepped in.


On that fateful June day in 1983, much of the hope for the Chiefs as a team was squelched. At the same time, much of the hope for mankind was lifted up, squarely on the shoulders of Joe Delaney. The scenario began when three kids had wandered into a “pond” and had gotten themselves into a life-threatening situation.

The children were screaming for help. Joe was at that park and became an extraordinary hero in the blink of an eye. Reports are that Joe instructed others nearby to call for help, while he acted. You see Joe Delaney could not swim, but he knew without his intervention these children would surely perish in that pond of water in the park.

Joe waded into the water and managed to get one of the boys to the bank of the body of water. That child was saved. Then as extraordinary heroes do, Joe went back for the other two children. He would never return from the water alive. The other two children he attempted to save also perished on this June day in 1983.


The term hero was properly redefined last September after being over used for trivial accomplishments for many years. This was not a trivial feat that Joe Delaney performed. He gave his life in an attempt to save three children that he did not know.

His selfless act produced more results than he could have ever delivered on any football field. He managed to save one child’s life at an extraordinary cost. His three children would grow up without a father and his young wife would be widowed. In this instance Joe Delaney’s sacrifice saved one child and in his selfless thought process, it was worth it.

He was and is a hero and should not have been forgotten.


But for many years that‘s exactly what happened.

Sure, there were television cameras and reporters covering the event for a few days in 1983. President Ronald Reagan recognized the sacrifice and awarded Joe the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in July of 1983. Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt set aside Delaney’s jersey No. 37 that year. A member of the Kansas City Chiefs will never again wear it.

But too many folks in the Chiefs’ organization forgot. His number is not in the Chiefs “Ring of Honor” that surrounds Arrowhead Stadium.

And now two generations of Chiefs’ fans know little of the small running back with the huge heart and the blazing speed. When you gaze upon the ring of honor that surrounds Arrowhead Stadium, you should see the raised black letters stating [37 Joe Delaney.] But still you don’t, and that’s a shame. Joe Delaney deserves that honor for his play with the team even though his time with the Chiefs was cut short due to his heroic act of self-sacrifice.


An organization of die-hard Chiefs fans emerged two years ago to honor the memory of Joe Delaney. The foundation is determined not to allow the budding Chiefs superstar, and more than that, a heroic man’s memory, to fade away. That group has formed a non-profit organization called 37 Forever

This group has an upcoming golf tournament planned for Friday, Sept 27th at 10:00 AM, at Staley Farms in North KC. The group is also planning a banquet on the following Saturday, September 28th at the banquet facility at

According to the group the proceeds from these events are set up to sponsor water safety classes and swimming lessons for at risk youth in the Kansas City area. There are a variety of options for the golf tournament on Friday and the cost for the banquet on Saturday is $50. Check out the 37 Forever web site to see the price options for the Friday golf tourney.
The group will also be “tailgating” before the home game against the Dolphins on Sept. 29th.

Many of the foundation are Chiefs fans from outside of Kansas City and are asking for support from local folks who believe that all children in the Kansas City community deserve to be taught water safety. If you wish to help, you can drop a line to

This is a worthy cause, brought about by a hero who once played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Joe Delaney’s memory may not yet be in the Ring of Honor of Arrowhead Stadium, but thanks to the 37 Forever Foundation it can be realized for youths by instruction in water safety.

And with some hard work and some luck, a new generation of KC Chiefs fans can remember a father, a husband, a hero and a former Kansas City Chief, number 37 Joe Delaney.

(CK Rairden can be reached by email at