On this day in 1983, Kansas City Chiefs running back Joe Delaney lost his life after jumping into a Louisiana pond, in a desperate attempt to save the lives of three drowning children. One child lived through the ordeal, but Joe and the other two boys did not.
On that sweltering June day, 35 years ago, hundreds flocked to Monroe, Louisiana’s Chennault Park where a deep-water pond sat with warning signs telling folks not to enter the water. Three boys, though, did not heed the warnings and jumped in, anyway, according to the Shreveport Times.
As it happened, the Chiefs’ 24-year-old star running back was near the pond when the boys jumped into the treacherous waters. Sure enough, despite the warnings — even from the player himself — the boys got to a part of the pond where the bottom dropped off precipitously. All three began to struggle and sink beneath the cold water.
Delaney reportedly told a witness, “I can’t swim good,” as he rushed into the water adding, “but I’ve got to save those kids.”
The player did not make it out of the dangerous waters alive. Neither did two of the three boys who he hoped to save.
Later, Delaney’s mother, Eunice Kennon, admitted that she had never seen her son swim even as she insisted he told her he knew how.
His sister, JoAnn Brazeale, also said that she was not sure if her football hero brother could swim, but noted, “He was always going to help somebody.”
“It sounds just like him — he was always doing something for somebody else,” Bobby Ray McHalffey, Delaney’s coach at Haughton High School, told the media after he learned of the tragic incident. “There’s none better.”
Delaney was the Chiefs’ 1981 second-round NFL Draft pick and in the ensuing season rushed for 1,121 yards helping the Chiefs to their first winning season since 1973. Delaney left behind his wife and three children, one only four months old.
“At a time when too many seem to be concerned only about protecting and advancing their own self-interests, it’s fitting to celebrate Delaney’s decision to perform the ultimate act of selflessness,” Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted today, on this the 35th anniversary of Delaney’s death.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.