Joe Delaney lost his life trying to save three young boys, 39 years ago today

USA TODAY Sports

Every year on June 29, we remember Joe Delaney. Every year on June 29, many hear his story for the first time.

Joe Delaney was 24. He had played two years in the NFL, with the Chiefs. He rushed for 1,121 yards as a rookie, immediately becoming one of the bright young stars in the NFL. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Due to injury, he appeared in eight games during his second NFL season.

Joe Delaney and his wife, Carolyn, had three young daughters. On June 29, 1983, three young boys Joe Delaney didn’t know had gotten into a two-acre, man-made pond. They were struggling. They needed help. Joe Delaney jumped in to help them.

I can’t swim good, but I’ve got to save those kids,” Joe Delaney said. “If I don’t come up, get somebody.”

One of the boys managed to get out of the pond. The other two boys drowned. Joe Delaney drowned, too. Here’s the original Associated Press story regarding Delaney’s death.

It happened 39 years ago today. Every year on June 29, we remember the heroism and selflessness of Joe Delaney. We also remember the tragedy, for Delaney, for his wife, for their children, and for the rest of his family and friends. He was 24. He acted without thought or hesitation. Those boys needed help, and Joe Delaney sprang into action.

In 2020, Marvin Dearman, the diver who retrieved Joe Delaney from the pond, successfully lobbied for a permanent memorial to Delaney at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana, the site of the incident.

“It’s never left my mind,” Dearman said at the time. “Basically, he died in my arms, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.”

It personally comes to mind for us every June 29. The world needed Joe Delaney then. The world could definitely use a few more Joe Delaneys now. Hopefully, remembering Joe Delaney today will inspire others to do what needs to be done regardless of the potential consequences, especially because in most situations doing the right thing includes consequences far less permanent and severe than the ultimate sacrifice Joe Delaney made, 39 years ago today.

69 responses to “Joe Delaney lost his life trying to save three young boys, 39 years ago today

  1. Thanks for continuing to commemorate this anniversary. I learned of this first from this site years ago.
    “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

  2. Thank you sir for a powerful reminder of selfishness in a heightened age of “Me”.

  3. Thank you sir for a powerful reminder of selfless actions in a heightened age of “Me”.

  4. Always a sad yet heartwarming true story. It is so true the world needs more selfless people like Mr. Delaney.

  5. For those that remember, Joe Delaney was in his way to being a star. His story is not discussed enough.

  6. A good man trying to do a very good thing. We need more Joe’s in this world. Prayers to his family.

  7. Thank you for refreshing our memory. To selflessly give his life for others he didn’t even know,despite having children of his own,and knowing the potential for his not surviving was high, speaks volumes for his character. He deserves a maximum of national recognition, and his surviving family should be comfortably provided for as long as they live.

  8. Heroism and selflessness is elusive in modern America. Thanks for the memorial Mike. I remember this event like it was yesterday. And thank you Joe!

  9. His story truly gives us perspective of how trivial our daily worries can be. Hopefully, a generation of young athletes can point to this story, & be inspired to live their lives in a similar manner.

  10. Great article.
    A man who had everything a man his age could ever want to have gave it all up to save 3 boys he didn’t even know. Yes, this world needs more like him and less self centered people. May we never forget his heroics.

  11. I wonder how well the children that survived lives turned out, I’m sure they are forever grateful

  12. We need more Joe Delaney’s and less DeShaun Watson’s…That’s what’s wrong in the world today

  13. This definitely isn’t talked about enough. This is the first time I’m hearing about this. NFL should dedicate a day or something to this guy. What a selfless man. Glad I know about him now. I will tell others.

  14. A rookie, in that era, ran for over 1,000 yards. The at seems like a lot! Makes you wonder maybe he’d be synonymous with guys like Campbell or Peyton had he been able to complete his career. Of course saving a kids life puts him in his own hall of fame. Rest In peace…

  15. ilbcertain says:
    June 29, 2022 at 8:58 am
    I wonder how well the children that survived lives turned out, I’m sure they are forever grateful

    —————————————————————————————
    Sadly, the only survivor, LeMarkits Holland, life did not turn out so great. He struggled with the memory and found himself in prison in the early 2000’s for cocaine distribution. In an interview from prison, he remained very grateful, but had a hard time dealing with the events of that day. Not sure what he’s up to now.

  16. More of this type of story and less about the Watsons of the world would be good with me.

  17. Mike Florio said “The world could definitely use a few more Joe Delaneys now.”

    How true. He made an impact but guys that do things like that get a headline then forgotten until an article like this retells that story. They don’t get “influencer” status. Now there would be dozens of cell phone videos recording it with a narrative in the background asking is someone is going to save those poor kids. We’ve already seen it.

    His life was service before self and that should be the influence now and talked about more often.

  18. I love that you do this each year. Every year around this time I think about this story. Most selfless person that deserves the recognition as all heroes do. Thanks again Mr. Florio.

  19. This heroic act is largely forgotten. If you didn’t bring it up I don’t if I would see it anywhere else. Then it would slowly fade into the past. Each year I thank you, and I want to thank you again this time for keeping his memory and his sacrifice alive.

  20. Florio,
    I often disagree with you and your liberal ideology but something I will never question is the enormity of your heart.
    Thanks for the annual remind we of the enormity of Joe Delamey’s heart!

  21. Does the NFL have a Joe Delaney award? They need to have one, if not as this act was heroic.

  22. True heroism. Maybe PFT / NBC could partner and advocate that everyone learn to swim in memory of Joe’s sacrifice. It’s a basic lifesaving skill that so many people do not have.

  23. Thanks Mike, for bringing our hero to light to today’s readers. Joe was the best there ever was.

  24. these days we’d only have a cellphone video of 3 kids struggling to swim…

  25. Might be time to diversify the appreciation of good in human nature a little bit. Plenty of examples available in the public record.even if narrowed to nfl relevance.

  26. I remember when that happened. I remember reading about it several times since then. Every time, same reaction. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

  27. Who among us would do this? I’m not sure I could or would. I hope I would have this man’s courage. Mike Florio, what say you?

  28. The NFL needs to give out a Delany Award every year for either courage or for a selfless act by a player or something. He truly needs to be remembered. A TRUE hero. Not many like him now a days.

  29. I remember Joe Delaney’s great rookie year with the Chiefs. I also remember the terrible feeling after hearing that he had passed, especially in this heroic manner. I’m glad that he is still being honored on the anniversary. He should never be forgotten.

  30. If Ray Lewis is in the HOF, there should be some acknowledgement of Joe Delaney’s sacrifice in that building.

  31. He was a brave man.
    Rescuing a single swimmer can be difficult for even a seasoned swimmer, not to mention three. They panic and claw and essentially bring you down into the water.

    RIP…

  32. Thank you for always doing this. A great young player and a greater young man. I remember the tragic news the day it happened.

  33. Thank you for reminding us of this story of sacrifice that we can all use in our lives and need to share with others! I appreciate your faithfulness to this remembrance as we could use more stories like this! Again thank you!

  34. Joe was a world class baller on and off the football field. It is an honor to remember his legacy of selflessness.

  35. I’m old enough to have saw Super Joe play. He was exciting. When I heard of his heroic efforts and the price he paid, it was shocking and deeply sad. Keep this story alive. Joe D. knew his limits but he acted with bravery anyway. A salute, 39 years and counting.

  36. Lets start the official Joe Delaney Award petition now… The NFL rookie of the year award doesn’t have a name yet right?

  37. Every year that I see this great reminder I question why the NFL hasn’t done more to celebrate this man. It’s time to name an award or find another way to memorialize him and his sacrifice.

  38. No rivalry baloney here. This is a story about a hero, who just happened to be a football player. RIP Joe

  39. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has a “Contributors” category of inductees. Joe Delaney’s selfless act was so important that he is remembered each year by the NFL community on the anniversary of his death. To my mind, Joe Delaney’s legacy deserves to be honored via induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as a Contributor to humankind.

  40. I still remember him and what he did. Truly a hero and a profile in courage. John 15:13.

  41. Maybe we should also do a yearly Pat Tillman Tribute who gave his life defending this Country’s Freedoms.

  42. I remember learning about Delaney’s tragic heroic death on TV news. Awful loss. A man of great character who would have been helping people to this day if he had lived. What a loss for his family and close friends.

    Buddy Young, another man of strong character (and hard working player whose heart more than made up for his smaller physical size; Young was 5’4″ but was extremely fast and tough), tragically was killed in a car accident leaving a memorial dinner for Joe Delaney. I always remember Joe Delaney and Buddy Young on this day.

  43. As I read some of the thoughtful comments left for the story above, I sit and wonder who in the hell would “dislike” most any of them? Come on people. Joe is a hero in this regard.

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