Haughton’s hero: Joe Delaney starred at NSU, in NFL, before this day in 1983

JOE D: Haughton’s Joe Delaney is shown on the Northwestern State sideline during the Demons’ 1980 State Fair Classic contest at Independence Stadium against Louisiana Tech.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Thirty-nine years ago today, on a steamy afternoon in Monroe, Haughton native Joe Delaney gave his life trying to save three drowning children.

The Northwestern State two-sport All-American and Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl running back was attending a water park outing for children at Chennault Park when he heard cries for help from a nearby oxidation pond outside the park.

He handed his wallet to a bystander, telling him, “I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to try to help those kids,” and dashed a couple hundred yards to the pond, and leaped in. He never made it back out. One child did.

Delaney was a two-time All-America running back in 1979-80 for the Demons, and joined Mark Duper, Victor Oatis and Mario Johnson on the Demons’ 1981 NCAA championship 4×100 meter relay team, earning All-America honors.

Delaney was the 1981 AFC Rookie of the Year for the Chiefs and played in the Pro Bowl. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who drafted Delaney in the second round of the 1981 draft and coached him in 1981-82, said Delaney was one of the five best players he coached in his 45-year career, including nearly 30 years in the NFL.

Delaney left behind his wife, Carolyn, and their three young daughters. His heroic act matched his selfless lifestyle and coupled with his astounding athletic career to make him an instant icon in north Louisiana and elsewhere far beyond the sports world. Among those attending his funeral: then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

His No. 44 Demon football jersey was retired at halftime of his final game at NSU. Since his death, no Kansas City player has worn his No. 37. He is immortalized in several ways at Northwestern, including plaques at Turpin Stadium and the Ledet Track Complex, and with the permanent football team captains receiving Joe Delaney Memorial Leadership Awards annually. The Demons’ spring football game has been known as the Joe Delaney Bowl since 1989.

He was the subject of a 2015 film titled “Delaney,” part of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Shorts series.

The Joe Delaney Park in Haughton honors his memory and provides play space for youth in his hometown. Swimming lessons are taught in his name in Kansas City, supported by The 37 Forever Foundation.

Two years ago, a monument honoring Delaney was dedicated at the site of the drowning in Monroe’s Chennault Park. The mayor of Kansas City declared Oct. 30, 2020 as “Joe Delaney Day” on what would have been his 62nd birthday.

Last year, a two-mile stretch of I-435 going past Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City was renamed “Joe Delaney Memorial Highway.”

Delaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal from President Ronald Reagan, presented at his funeral by then Vice President Bush to the Delaney family. Delaney is enshrined in the N Club Hall of Fame, the Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Chiefs’ Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Photo courtesy Northwestern State