Monday marks the anniversary of one of American sports’ most overlooked heroes. This weekend, family and friends unveiled a memorial to Joe Delaney near the spot where he drowned.
For several years, we’ve commemorated Delaney’s passing on the anniversary of his death. Every year, people learn for the first time the story of a young man with his NFL career and entire life before him while trying to save three drowning children. This years, the 37th anniversary of the man who wore No. 37 arrives.
Via KNOE-TV, a monument to Delaney now sits at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana, close to the pond where Delaney drowned.
“He jumped in that pond to save some children who were drowning, and he knew he couldn’t swim, but that didn’t matter to him. All he thought about was he was going to try to save those kids,” said Marvin Dearman, a rescue diver for the Monroe Police Department at the time the tragedy happened.
Delaney saved one of the children. Two of them drowned along with Delaney.
“Joe was a person that would give his shirt off his back to you,” his widow, Carolyn, said. “He was a kindhearted person. He was also helping out people, and he didn’t worry about Joe himself. He just worried about making the people around him happy.”
Before Saturday’s event, Carolyn Delaney and Joe’s surviving family members had not visited the site of his passing. The monument gives them reason to repeatedly return.
“We can come back and we have a place that I can bring the kids, the grands and the great grands to see the monument honoring Joe,” she said.
The monument should be a reminder for anyone else who sees it over the next 37 years.
“He died a hero, and there’s a story about him that will live on forever,” Dearman said.
It’s a story that we’ll tell every June 29 for as long as the lights are on. And it’s a story that, every year, plenty of people will be hearing for the first time.