Joe Delaney died 37 years ago today

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One of the least-known but most compelling stories in NFL history happened 37 years ago today.

Chiefs running back Joe Delaney died on June 29, 1983. He died trying to save three drowning boys. He tried to save three drowning boys even though he couldn’t swim.

We mention the story every year, for a couple of reasons. (This year, we’ve mentioned Joe a couple of times.) First, the moment I learned that Delaney had died remains seared in my memory, a realization while reading the local newspaper over a bowl of cereal just a few weeks after graduating high school. Second, every time we mention Joe Delaney’s story, I hear from multiple readers who had never heard of Joe Delaney.

Every NFL fan should know about Joe Delaney. Everyone in America should know about Joe Delaney.

This year, his message of extreme selflessness carries even more weight than usual. Every year, his story must be remembered and told, in the hopes of inspiring those who hadn’t previously heard of Joe Delaney.

35 responses to “Joe Delaney died 37 years ago today

  1. I am fortunate to know him as a hero and Chiefs player. He made the Chiefs appear relevant again when he played, he was electrifying! Saddened to hear about his ultimate fate. It angered me when it took the Chiefs organization to finally retire his number and put him on the “Ring of Honor”

  2. What a sad but yet in heroic story. Some people are just wired better than others. Rest In Peace Mr. Delaney.

  3. One correction Mike, every human being should hear about Mr. Delaney.
    In our current world his unselfishness can teach a lot.

  4. How many people would actually risk their own life to save others? That’s the definition of a hero

  5. If that act of heroism doesn’t give you goosebumps and put a lump in your throat not sure that anything would. RIP Joe

  6. Great back, really carried the whole team on his back. when he wasn’t in the game, the chiefs’ offense was just treading water…

    I’ll get my hat.

  7. I don’t believe his selflessness carries any more weight now than the day he did it. Such acts are timeless and have happened throughout eternity. The weight is just in the eye of the beholder. Such virtues as love, kindness, sacrifice, and selflessness are eternal verities.

  8. The world needs more stories like Joe Delaney….

    A greater hero than any superbowl winner.

    Rest in peace Joe, God bless and thank you for you selflessness.

  9. I remember the summer day when I was a child and the local newsfeed notified us of his passing, and the circumstances surrounding this! It was a defining moment in my youth……He could not swim but risked his own life/career to save kids? WOW! What a man! I wish he was here today for many reasons…….He could really be a judge for racial equality! Miss JD! (oh, BTW…I’m a white dude……not that that should matter!)

  10. Always good to remember Joe D. Selfless and heroic. But makes me think why would you not post anything about Pat Tillman anniversary recently ? Ultimate sacrifice and just as selfless and shouldn’t be forgotten.

  11. Many thanks to Mr Delaney who could not swim. Many thanks as well to the Police officers who ran into the World Trade Center who showed extreme selflessness in trying to save lives. This is what truly makes me proud. People trying to help people.

  12. Way to go, Florio. You were the only one banging the drum on Mike Vick. You are the only one on Joe Delaney. I love it, keep on keeping on. When there is clearly a right side, Bang that drum!!!

  13. I agree, and RIP Mr. Delaney. I think we should also remember Pat Tillman every year as well, who also selflessly gave his life in defense of our country.

  14. Thank you for doing this every year! This even happened when I was 5, so it was a little “before my time”. I was one that had never heard of Joe Delaney until I read this same post about 10 years ago!

  15. I’d gone off you guys a bit because of the partisan political stuff but i agree 100% with you on this one, i hadnt heard of Joe Delaney but im glad i learned about him

  16. Its a very heroic sad story.cant believe its been 37 years ago,seems like yesterday.everyone should learn how to swim as well as learn basic CPR,neither is that hard.the lesson here is that if you cannot swim you too will become a drowning victim without ever reaching the victim if you jump in,dont let emotions get in the way of your survival in this situation.

  17. I am a bit amazed at all the thumbs down to this story and the supportive posts. He gave his life trying to save others knowing the slim odds he faced. Seems like a genuinely heroic and selfless act. It makes idolizing singers, actors and politicians seem foolish. Where is the hate coming from? If one of my children were in danger I pray there would be someone like this around. RIP Joe and thank you.

  18. Joe Delaney should be in the Hall of Fame, with all the other greats who got there statistically. The NFL Hall of Fame should be for the players that bring fame and honor to the game and not just statistical greatness. He should have a bronze bust and be there with all the other great Chiefs.

  19. Wow I was 13 but I remember it vividly being reported on T.V. Hero died doing what heroes do, putting others over self. Let’s ALL take a step back and think about that today.

  20. Thanks for posting this each year – always good to help remember and spread the heroic act that Joe Delaney did.

  21. mnionc says:
    June 29, 2020 at 9:35 pm
    So did he save the three boys???

    He saved at least one…..and that child is now in prison.

  22. Don’t quite get the obsession and agenda with one altruistic act and tragedy many years ago. Sadly it’s part of life and happens many times everyday.


    I was in Junior High when he passed. It was quite a shock at the time. The Chiefs weren’t on a lot in my area (SC) back in the early 1980’s. I mostly saw on Inside the NFL (with original hosts Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti) and Sunday night sports highlights. Click on the link above to see him in action. I had forgotten how good he was. He running style was a kind of similar to Billy Simms back in the day.

  24. A lot of us on here may disagree with you from time to time, but I have to thank you every year for this, Florio. I was in grade school in the 90s when we’d all talk DT, Neil Smith and Okoye, but never knew about Delaney until I was able to get an internet connection in the late 90s.

    Chiefs Kingdom raises it’s glass to you for making at least one more person aware of how great a man he was

  25. Well done Florio, this is a great tradition that everyone can agree with because JD was a hero who NEEDS to be remembered. He made the ultimate sacrifice and needs to be remembered, commended and honored. We hear too many negative stories about athletes today, and stories that divide our nation, and not enough accounts about the athletes who do very good things for their communities and humanity, like JD. God Bless JD.

  26. Let’s remember this also from Joe’s heroic story…if you see somebody in the water who appears to be drowning, NEVER swim out and try to rescue them. In the panic, they are likely to pull you down as well, which is what happened to Joe I’m sure. Your best bet is to throw them a life preserver or other flotation object.

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