Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remembering a Hero

Most casual Chiefs fans probably don’t realize that the number 37 hasn’t been worn in over 28 years; the jersey has been unofficially retired by the Chiefs. That number belonged to a man who was not only a football player, but a hero.  I can honestly say that I never watched Joe Delaney play a down for the Chiefs, but I will forever remember him. A lot of fans probably have never seen him play; he was only a chief for two seasons. Joe Delaney died June 29, 1983 while trying to rescue three children from drowning. He was only 24 years old.

Delaney ended up playing football in college at I-AA Northwestern State. While there he was named a two time all-American and also ran track. During his last college game the school retired his jersey. He was also selected to the College Hall of fame posthumously in 1997. Delaney would end up being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 21st pick of the 2nd round in the 1981 draft.

During his rookie campaign Delaney amassed 1121 yards on the ground and scored 3 touchdowns on his way to being named AFC Rookie of the Year. He was also selected to the pro bowl and set 4 Chiefs season records. Delaney was victim to bad luck in his sophomore campaign. In the 1982 season he suffered an eye injury and the season was shortened due to a strike.  He required surgery to repair a detached retina. In the strike shortened season, he would only rush for 380 yards.

On a June afternoon in 1983 a hero was born. Delaney made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save 3 boys from drowning in a pond.  While at Chennault Park in Monroe Louisiana, Delaney heard the cries for help and knew that he had to help. The only problem was that he could not swim. Joe was able to pull one of the boys to shore, and then he proceeded to go back in after the other two. Joe and the two remaining boys would never leave that pond alive. He was laid to rest on July 4th.

After his death he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Reagan. During the 1983 season the Chiefs wore a patch with the number 37 in honor of Delaney. The NCAA awarded the Award of Valor to him in 1984. In 2004 the Chiefs elected him to the team’s hall of fame and he is a member of the hall of honor.

To help keep his memory alive a group of chiefs fans have established the 37 Forever Foundation. The foundation works with the American Red Cross by providing free swimming lessons to inner-city kids.

I’d like for all Chiefs fans to try and remember Joe Delaney. The man was not defined by what he did on the field, but by the valor he exerted off of it. The man was a hero and the sacrifice that he made should never be forgotten.

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