Kansas City Chiefs Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium
Part 2: Death and legacy
A family without a father
At the time of his death in 1983, Delaney left behind three daughters: Tamika (7), Crystal (7) and four-month-old Joanna, known as “JoJo,” all by his high school sweetheart and widow Carolyn grew up down the street from him in Haughton.
According to a Sports Illustrated article about Delaney, he built a modest home on the same street after he signed his first (and only) pro contract.
Unchanged by fame and fortune
Natchitoches native and local banker Ed Dranguet handled Delaney’s personal finances throughout his successful yet brief career with the Chiefs.
“Joe was a very conservative kid. He lived off the money he’d made during training camp and banked his regular season salary,” Dranguet said.
“The only extravagant purchase I ever knew him to make was a fully loaded 1981 Mercury Cougar he’d seen at the local Ford dealership and just had to have. He told me it was the first vehicle he’d ever owned, and for someone who came from such a humble background – from a family who didn’t have much – and could suddenly afford almost anything, it was quite surprising that his so-called ‘dream car’ was a baby blue Cougar he got for under $18,000.
“That’s just who he was: a very down to earth, humble country boy who never let money change him.”
Acknowledging Delaney’s “exemplary deeds of services for his country or fellow citizens,” President Ronald Reagan posthumously named him the recipient of the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award, shortly after his death in 1983.
His alma mater, NSU, which had already retired his jersey number 44 during Delaney’s final home game of his senior season, continues to honor him by playing the annual “Joe Delaney Bowl” to conclude its football spring season. The team’s permanent team captains’ award is also named in his honor.
Though his Kansas City Chiefs number 37 is not officially retired by the organization, no player has worn that number since Delaney’s death. His name is included in the team’s Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium, and he has been elected to the College Football, Louisiana Sports and Chiefs halls of fame.
Additionally, the 37 Forever Foundation works with the American Red Cross to provide swimming lessons for underprivileged children among the Kansas City community.
The tragedy continues
LeMarkits Holland was only 10-years old on that fateful June day in 1983.
The lone survivor of the drowning, he says he found it difficult to cope with the loss of his older brother and cousin, plus the fact that a famous athlete had sacrificed his life so that he might live.
Instead of turning the traumatic experience into a positive in his life, Holland claims that guilt and depression led him down the dark path that eventually led to him becoming a convicted felon for distribution of cocaine.
Now free and raising children of his own, Holland now goes by “Marty” and says he’s found faith in God and is determined to the make the most of this, his third chance in life.
“You sit back and look at your life and think about what happened,” Holland told Black Athlete Sports Network in a 2008 interview. “You can sit down and pinpoint the mistakes that you made, what you should’ve did and what you shouldn’t have did.
“I think about Joe a lot. I think about Joe every time I see a football game. Because all those people were out there, and he was the only one out there to risk his life to try to save a life.”
The heartache has continued for Delaney’s family as well. His eldest daughter, Tamika, lost her fiancé in a drive by shooting while he was on vacation in Los Angeles in the early 2000s. His oldest sister, Alma, suffered the cruel fate of also losing her son, Sharlon, to a drowning in 2005.
“Keeping my belief in God has got me through, and remembering that everything happens for a reason,” Carolyn Delaney told BASN in 2008.
Nearly 30 years later, Joe Delaney is still fondly remembered almost unanimously by those who knew him as a man of tremendous character and athletic talent who willingly sacrificed everything he had to gain in life so that others might live.
Upon Joe’s death, former UPI sports reporter Rick Gosselin, now is a sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News, poignantly observed that “Great athletes are born with instinct. Joe Delaney died with it.”