Author Archives: Jacob C. Johnson

About Jacob C. Johnson

Jacob Johnson is an experienced journalist whose passion for writing has taken him far beyond the bayous of his home state of Louisiana. He is the former sports editor of The Sakhalin Times, one of Far Eastern Russia’s only English-language newspapers. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mass communication at LSU, he served as Sports Director of the campus television station, Tiger TV. He was also a member of the Tiger Stadium video scoreboard crew awarded a game ball by then coach Nick Saban for its replay efforts on a key play against Alabama in 2000. He currently resides in Baton Rouge with his wife and two sons.

The life and death of Joe Delaney, part 2

(continued from part 1)

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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.”

Posthumous accolades

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.

Delaney_grave

His legacy

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.”

The life and death of Joe Delaney, part 1

Joe Delaney

Photo courtesy of arrowheadpride.com

Part 1:  Life

Imagine a scenario in which you are a rags-to-riches millionaire athlete who must make an instantaneous decision to either put your life at risk in an attempt to try and save the lives of total strangers, or simply play it safe by looking for someone else who may be better suited to perform that task.

If you hesitated to make a decision for even just a split-second, you’re no Joe Delaney.

June 29, 2013, marks the 30th anniversary of the untimely passing of one of the most talented yet equally selfless and humble stars American football has ever seen.

Joe Delaney was a star running back for the Northwestern State Demons and NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, who died just two years after being named the 1981 American Football Conference offensive Rookie of the Year by the United Press International sportswriters association.

For all his speed, agility and power as a football player and track and field star, Joe was a poor swimmer. On that particular June day in 1983 he had driven his family 100 miles east from his hometown of Haughton, La., to Monroe, for a day of fun and recreation at Chenault Park.

While playing softball, Joe responded to the desperate screams of three young boys who had found themselves in danger of drowning while swimming in a water-filled pit.

“There was a little boy who was next to the pit and he was interviewed on the television after it happened,” Joe’s sister Lucille Delaney recounted to local reporters shortly following the incident. “And he said someone asked Joe, ‘Can you swim?’ And Joe said, ‘I can’t swim good but I’ve got to save those kids.’ And then he said, ‘If I don’t come up, go get somebody.’ ”

Those were presumably the last words Joe ever uttered.

One of the boys drowned instantly, along with Joe, while another died the following day. Only the third survived.

Humble beginnings

Joseph Alton Delaney was born on Oct. 30, 1958, the third of eight children. His father, Woodrow Delaney, drove a cattle truck and his mother, Eunice, worked as a housekeeper at the local First Baptist Church of Haughton.

“I remember when he was in seventh grade, a little kid, and he said to our mother, ‘Momma, I’m gonna be a pro football player,’ ” Lucille told one of the many journalists who interviewed her soon after Joe’s death. “’I’m gonna make you proud of me one day.’

“He was so small, we all laughed at him. I mean, it just seemed impossible that he’d ever make professional football.”

Delaney was recruited as a wide receiver out of high school by Division I powerhouses like LSU, Oklahoma and Texas. However, the guy everyone remembers as an honest and selfless young man was not surprisingly turned off by the less than scrupulous college football recruitment process.

According to Don Hudson, former managing editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., who met Delaney as a fellow freshman at NSU, Joe confided in him that he’d been “offered cars, money and everything else,” but “it was the honesty of coach (A.L.) Williams” that ultimately landed him at Northwestern State in nearby Natchitoches to play college ball.

Williams will never forget the conversations he had with Joe while on the recruiting trail.

“We were a team that threw the football, and he asked me if he would be a wide receiver if he came to our school,” Williams said. “Joe said he wanted to play pro ball and it was at wide receiver where he thought he’d have a shot. I said, ‘yes,’ and he chose to play for us at Northwestern State.”

Consummate team player

Soon after practice began during his freshman season in 1977, Northwestern State’s starting tailback was injured.

“Joe knew we were in trouble, and he walked up to me and said, ‘If I can help the team at tailback, I’ll switch,” said Williams, who told him he’d come to the school as a wide receiver and the choice was up to him.

At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Delaney was considered too small to play the physically demanding position of running back. However, his speed and determination would eventually catapult him to stardom as one of the school’s greatest of all-time at that position.

Delaney finished his college career with 3,047 total yards and 31 touchdowns. He was posthumously elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997 for his stellar career as a Demon.

Two-sport success

While football was the sport he became famous for playing, Delaney’s true passion was track and field.

Due to his commitment to the football team, he was unable to run track during the spring at NSU until his senior season. Hudson remembers asking Joe why he would risk potentially damaging his body and therefore his chances of being drafted early in the upcoming NFL Draft by running track.

True to his nature, Delaney’s response was, “Because my good friend, (head track coach) Jerry Dyes asked me to.”

Delaney still holds the NSU 200-meter record with a time of 20.64 seconds, and also ran the second leg of the school’s 4 x 100 relay team that won the 1981 NCAA championship at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track and Field Stadium. His teammates were Victor Oatis, Mario Johnson and a fellow football star named Mark Duper, who soon went on to earn the nickname “Super” Duper as one of quarterback Dan Marino’s favorite targets at wide receiver during his career as a Miami Dolphin (1982-1992).

Rising NFL star

1982 Topps Joe DelaneyDrafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and coach Marv Levy with the 41st pick in the second round of the 1981 NFL draft, Delaney would set four club records in his rookie season en-route to being voted the only rookie starter for the AFC in that season’s Pro Bowl.

Though his numbers declined during his second NFL campaign, Joe made no excuses. An eye injury he sustained early in the season severely limited his vision. He would play the remainder of the year wearing protective goggles before switching to contact lenses.

It wasn’t until May 1982 that he’d be diagnosed with a detached retina in his right eye. “Sugar Ray’s disease,” he called it, a reference to another famous patient of his surgeon at Johns Hopkins, boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

Joe would never get a chance to find out whether or not the procedure had worked well enough to give him the opportunity to achieve the athletic success that Leonard went on to have.

Click here for part 2

 

Finally a home for the Hall

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Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches

NATCHITOCHES, La.- It’s been said that good things come to those who wait. For the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, its growing number of inductees and the state’s sports fans who have patiently waited over 50 years for a museum worthy of paying tribute to the rich tradition of Louisiana athletics, a good thing is certainly coming.

“It has been a long and difficult process to get to where we are today, but we are very excited that a permanent home for the Hall of Fame has finally been established and will open in June during the weekend-long celebration honoring the induction class of 2013,” said Doug Ireland, Chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. “Now we have something tangible- something that people can walk through- celebrating one of our state’s greatest resources and sources of pride, which is Louisiana athletics.”

According to the Hall of Fame’s official website, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association elected the inaugural class in 1958, but it wasn’t until 1972 that public displays honoring Hall of Fame inductees were developed. Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches agreed to host the hall’s limited displays consisting of oil paintings of each member along with just a few pieces of memorabilia from their careers for the next couple of decades. From 2000-2002 the hall moved briefly to Shreveport before returning 77 miles south back to Natchitoches in 2003.

With little to no funding from the state, a tightening university budget and limited display space at Prather Coliseum, NSU found it difficult to sustain the Hall of Fame’s growing collection with each passing year of newly enshrined members. A want soon turned into necessity and in 2003, legislation was passed during the administration of Gov. Murphy J. “Mike” Foster, Jr. to ensure the development of a museum for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches under stewardship of the state’s museum system.

His successor, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, proposed in 2005 to the Louisiana State Bond Commission that funding be allocated for the legislatively approved project. Ireland identified Blanco as instrumental in fast-tracking the legislative process for the hall as Foster’s lieutenant governor,

“We moved up the priority ladder really quickly for a project that had been just introduced,” Ireland recalled. “In anticipation of that bond commission approval, the Hall of Fame’s entire collection had been transferred to the state museum warehouses in Baton Rouge and New Orleans during the summer of 2005… then Katrina hit.”

As it was with every other aspect of life on the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coasts post-Katrina, things drastically changed. Although a good portion of the Hall of Fame collection was being stored in a warehouse in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the time, miraculously, not a single piece of the collection sustained any damage – either in in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Blanco was succeeded by current Gov. Bobby Jindal in January 2008. Jindal was elected by running on a fiscal conservative Republican platform, which posed a potential barrier to the Hall of Fame museum project.

“We were greatly pleased when Gov. Jindal committed to honoring the construction plans Gov. Blanco had made,” Ireland said. “While all of this was going on at the state level, there were dynamics taking place locally with equally important potential effects.”

The land which had been purchased to erect the museum was located in downtown Natchitoches. Founded in 1714, the town has the distinction of being the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase. Consequently, its downtown area is part of the U.S. federal government’s National Register of Historical Places, which places stringent regulations on new building projects.

Dodging another major bullet, the firm originally hired to design and construct the museum, Trahan Architects of Baton Rouge, was surprisingly allowed to proceed with the project. Trahan successfully convinced the Natchitoches Historical Society as well as relevant parties in the state and federal government that a “faux” architectural project made to look 200 years old was not in anyone’s best interest.

Citing landmark construction projects like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was widely panned by critics at the time it was erected, Victor F. “Trey” Trahan and his architectural group was able to win over enough preservationist-minded skeptics to approve the modern design of the building.

Construction of the $23 million museum ultimately broke ground in 2008, and as of May 2013 was nearing completion. Its grand opening is scheduled to take place on the weekend of June 27-29, 2013 to coincide with the induction of this year’s class, headlined by Shaquille O’Neal.

Although certain interactive displays and other portions of the 27,500-square foot museum will still be unavailable for viewing during its opening weekend, a great deal of Louisiana sports memorabilia will be on display for the first time ever.

In addition to serving as a lasting monument to the state’s athletic tradition, the museum will further enhance the tourism industry of the area.

“The city of Natchitoches is proud to be the permanent home of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame,” Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey said, “and we are graciously prepared to welcome visitors from all over the state and beyond to share with them memorabilia honoring this state’s most talented and prolific athletes, many of whom are from right here in northwest Louisiana.”

Everybody wants to be the big dog

Texas A M Future Football

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

OPINION:  You can’t fault the young pup for getting a little taste of the big time and suddenly thinking it has what it takes to be the leader of the pack.  I’m talking of course about still wet behind the ears SEC newbie Texas A&M, who recently howled at the moon that, “I’m not only dangerous because I was the only team to squat on the otherwise unblemished record of last year’s eventual BCS national champion and SEC West rival Alabama Crimson Tide, but I’ll also still be guided by the only lead dog in college football history to have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman for potentially the next three seasons.  Respect me!”

To anyone who thought they were all bark and no bite, the official Texas A&M athletics website recently reported that the school’s board of regents has approved an initial plan to spend an estimated $450 million on the redevelopment of Kyle Field, projected to enhance its overall capacity to 102,500.  It looks like soon the self-proclaimed “Home of the 12th man” will become the SEC’s largest football stadium behind Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium (102,455) and Alabama’s Bryant-Denney Stadium (101,821), not to mention the third largest in the entire nation.  Should that be the case, one can assume it’s only a matter of time before the Tide counters by installing a few more seats- presumably foldable lawn chairs, which is how they apparently roll in Tuscaloosa.

This news comes as LSU is in the midst of a stadium expansion of its own.  According to the LSU Athletic Department, approximately 60 suites and approximately 3,000 club seats are currently being added to the Tiger Stadium south end zone, as well as approximately 1,500 general public seats above the new suite and club seating.  This most recent stadium expansion is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014.

No matter how much bigger and flashier the stadiums of LSU’s SEC rivals might become, the simple fact remains that you can build a palatial dog house for a Chihuahua, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly going to transform the little pup into a St. Bernard.  Case in point the Tennessee Volunteers, who are an underwhelming 28-34 since 2008 under five different head coaches despite playing in the largest football stadium south of the Mason-Dixon line.

 

Two Tigers drafted in first round of the 2013 NFL Draft

saints mgWell, the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft is in the books.  Another record showing for the SEC, with 12 of the 32 players chosen on the first day of the draft hailing from schools that currently play in the conference that’s won the past seven consecutive BCS national football titles.

In fact, the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings doubled their pleasure on SEC talent on day one in an effort to double their fun in the near future.  The Jets took cornerback Dee Milliner out of Alabama with the ninth pick and Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Williams four picks later at 13; while the Vikings took two guys who, if nothing else can be defined as spellcheck nightmares:  former UF defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at 23 followed by wideout Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee at 29.

LSU defensive end Bakevious Mingo  became the first Louisiana prospect be taken in the 78th NFL Draft, sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns.  Mingo is the sixth top six pick from LSU in the last seven years; following Morris Claiborne (#6, 2012), Patrick Peterson (#5, 2011), Tyson Jackson (#3, 2006), Glenn Dorsey (#5, 2008), and arguably the biggest bust in NFL draft history, JaMarcus Russell (#1, 2007).

Thirteen-year-old St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital bone cancer patient Markell Gregoire and lifelong Saints fan was called upon to announce the New Orleans Saints’ 15th pick, Kenny Vaccaro, a highly touted safety out of the University of Texas- Austin.  What a classy move by the Saints!

The only other Louisiana prospect to go in the first round besides Mingo was fellow LSU Tiger Eric Reid, selected at 18 by the defending NFL Champion San Francisco 49ers.  To get Reed, the 49ers were willing to give up the 31st pick in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys (Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin) and the team’s 74th overall in the third round.

Offense breathes new life into LSU’s hopes for 2013

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger speaks with the media following the LSU Spring Game.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger speaks with the media following the LSU Spring Game.

A southeasterly breeze could be felt gently sweeping across LSU’s Tiger Stadium during Saturday’s National L Club Spring Football Game, almost like a symbolic sigh of relief by the fans that “hey, it finally looks like the offense is going to be what we’ve been expecting for the past few seasons!”

Throughout the game, each of the five quarterbacks who participated were allowed to call their own plays from a pre-scripted selection they’d been given by newly hired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

According to coach Les Miles, it was “an exercise that allows (coaches) to see what the quarterback thinks…one that improved the quarterbacks.”

Given the final stats, coaches and fans alike should be happy with the outcome of this exercise.

The White team, first teamers on both sides of the ball guided by Zach Mettenberger in the first half and Phillip Rivers in the second, posted a 37-0 victory over the Purple team.

With the exception of junior quarterback and Penn State transfer Rob Bolden, who did not dress out due to injury, every single quarterback on LSU’s roster got at least one offensive series under their belt today.

Incumbent starter Mettenberger was 12 of 19 passing, with 236 yards and two touchdowns.

“Coach Cameron allowed us to call our own plays and it was the first time I’d ever done that,” Mettenberger said. “He wanted to see down and distance where our head was. I think we all managed the game pretty well.”

Rivers was equally impressive, completing his first pass of the game to Jarvis Landry for a 20 yards and connecting with redshirt freshman wide receiver Travin Dural for a 45 yard touchdown on the very next play. He would finish 7 for 10 with 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Leading the Purple team was freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings, a January early enrollee from Marietta, Ga.

Jennings showed tremendous promise for a youngster having to face the first team defense. Although he was only 8-for-21 passing, he did throw for 98 yards and ran the ball seven times for a net gain of 26 yards with a long of 15.

“I think Anthony Jennings took time with it,” Miles said in his postgame press conference, “he did it with poise and planning.”

So much of the fan’s focus was on the play of the quarterbacks, perhaps because the Tigers have seemingly always had solid backfield play from their endless parade of lightning fast tailbacks and bruising fullbacks.

Jeremy Hill led the White team today with 13 carries and 102 net yards rushing with an average of 7.8 yards per carry. Junior Terrence Magee played for both teams and saw substantial action. He only caught one pass for a 10-yard gain for the Purple team – but he carried the ball a total of nine times for 73 yards, averaging 8.7 per carry for the Purple Team and 6.0 for the White Team.

Miles was pleased with the overall performance of the offense as a whole.

“Offensively, I think we handled the ball well. We rushed it well,” although pointing out that it was done against the second team. “Still, guys that needed to catch the ball did, and guys that needed to throw it did improve.”

It’s an improvement Tiger fans have been desperately yearning for since the offense was shutout in the 2012 Allstate BCS Championship Game loss to Alabama two seasons ago.

Happy Birthday, Big Willie!

William RoafForty-three years ago today, William Layton Roaf was born in the southeastern Arkansas city of Pine Bluff.  The first offensive lineman taken in the 1993 NFL Draft at eighth overall by the New Orleans Saints out of Louisiana Tech, he would go on to earn 11 Pro Bowl selections during his illustrious 13 year professional career. In 2012, he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Willie is also a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame (2007), the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame (2008), the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2009) as well as having been named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for both the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Despite all of his football accolades, one can make the argument that Willie is not even the most successful member of his immediate family.  After all, he’s the son of Cliff Roaf, a dentist, and Andree Layton Roaf, who holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court.  Furthermore, one of his sisters is a graduate of Georgetown University, while another is an Ivy League educated Episcopal minister who studied both at Harvard and Princeton.

The Saints drafted Willie with a pick acquired via trade from the Detroit Lions in exchange for fan favorite and Dome Patrol member Pat Swilling.  During his nine seasons in New Orleans, Willie was only afforded the opportunity to start in two playoff games.  However, one of those was the franchise’s first-ever playoff victory- a 31-28 NFL Wild Card win in 2000 over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.

Willie finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, earning All-Pro honors in three of the four years he spent there (2002-2005).  He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest athletes ever to play at Louisiana Tech and one of the most decorated Saints of all-time.  Happy 43rd, Big Willie!

 

There is no “D” in Ruston

Courtesy: Louisiana Tech University

Courtesy: Louisiana Tech University

Louisiana Tech concluded its spring season this past Saturday with the annual T-Day Spring Game, in which La Tech (first-team offense, second-team defense) defeated the Bulldog squad (second-team offense, first-team defense) 38-27. A total of 65 points were scored by the two intrasquad teams as they amassed an impressive 791 yards of total offense.
That’s a good sign for success in the fall, right? Unfortunately, Tech fans have grown accustom to watching promise morph into dejection as potent offenses seem to always be yoked with the albatross of an inconsistent and lackluster defense year after year.
“We’ve never had a problem putting points on the board as long as I can remember,” says 1999 Tech graduate and former cheerleader David Mooney. “What’s frustrating is that we let so many winnable games slip through our fingers by failing to get that one crucial defensive stop we desperately need.”
Last season Tech outscored every other FBS school averaging a whopping 51.5 points per game. Although senior quarterback Colby Cameron is gone, the Bulldogs do return sophomore running back Kenneth Dixon, who led the nation in scoring with a 16.8 average in 13 games last season. To the lament of players, alumni and fans alike, neither he nor any of his teammates got to compete in a postseason 14th game.
Tech enters its 2013 campaign with a new head coach (Skip Holtz), a fresh start in its inaugural season as a member of Conference-USA, and a chip on its shoulder for having missed out on a bowl game last season. And despite fielding yet another seemingly strong offense, those who follow the program will tell you that any future success hinges on the ability of the Bulldog defense to hunker down and hold that line.

Is (Or Was) Kansas City Cursed?

blog_box_featureYears before former LSU Tigers Dwayne Bowe, Glenn Dorsey or even Eddie Kennison enjoyed varying degrees of pro football success with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, there was a time when Louisiana prospects had to at least be a bit apprehensive about joining the organization.  You know, because of the “curse.”

Between 1963 and 1983, no less than four athletes who were either Louisiana natives or had played college ball here died unexpectedly while on the Chiefs’ active roster.  Curses are a part of American sports lore.  Look at how long Boston Red Sox fans cynically blamed the “curse of the Bambino” for their championship woes.  Or how about those loveable losers, the Chicago Cubs?  Their delusional fans actually blame a neighborhood bar owner and his pet goat for the 104 years and counting worth of torment they’ve suffered.  But this one seemed different.  I can’t verify it, but I’m fairly certain the Spinal Tap drummer curse was inspired by this eerie twenty year span of Kansas City tragedies.

The first to succumb to the alleged curse was 23 year old rookie kick returner/ running back Stone Johnson, former Grambling State star with blazing speed who competed in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome as a sprinter.  He suffered a fractured vertebra in a 1963 preseason game against the fearsome Oakland Raiders and died ten days later.

Tragedy struck again in December of 1965 when a stout 5-11, 225 lb. running back aptly nicknamed Mack “The Truck” Lee Hill died while undergoing knee surgery.  Signed as a rookie free agent out of Southern University, Hill bulldozed his way up the roster and became starting fullback, finishing his rookie season as the Chiefs’ second leading rusher.  To this day, the Mack Lee Hill award is given to the team’s most outstanding rookie.  Both his and Johnson’s numbers have been retired posthumously.

Just when it seemed more like coincidence than a curse, Houma area native and Chiefs’ running back Melvin Johnson, Jr. fell into a coma in 1980 during wrist surgery and never regained consciousness.  Like Hill he’d been an undrafted free agent who signed with Kansas City and eventually earned a spot on the team through hard work and perseverance.

A year later, the Chiefs drafted a diminutive running back with the heart of a lion out of Northwestern State in the second round.  His name was Joe Delaney.  A breakout star in his rookie season of 1981, Delaney was named AFC Rookie of the Year by United Press International (UPI).  After two successful seasons in the NFL, Delaney died a heroic death while trying to save three children from drowning in Monroe, Louisiana.

Since Delaney’s death, no other active Chief from Louisiana has died unexpectedly.  However, that’s not to say that the organization hasn’t been without tragedy during the past thirty years. In 2000, Hall of Fame linebacker and fan favorite Derrick Thomas died at the age of 33, just weeks after suffering severe injuries in a car accident.  And who could forget what happened last season with linebacker Jovan Belcher?  He’s the player that confessed to killing his girlfriend before committing suicide outside a team facility.

Do any of this year’s NFL hopefuls from Louisiana know about this so-called curse, or even care about it?  Probably not.  Still, it’s a bizarre coincidence that only adds to the mystique and tradition of football in Louisiana.

Statewide College Spring Football Overview

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Throughout Louisiana, college football fans can’t wait for spring football to crank up. They want to see how their favorite team’s roster will begin to take shape and what new wrinkles the coaching staffs plan to implement into their respective playbooks for the upcoming season. Who are the newcomers that might make an impact next season, and which former blue-chip recruits are ready to make the leap to gridiron hero in the fall?

Louisiana proudly fields five NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) and six NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly Division I-AA) teams. The following is an alphabetical list of schools and information about their spring football games:

 

Grambling State

FCS: Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)

Location: Grambling

2012 season record: 1-10 (0-9 SWAC)

Head Coach: Doug Williams

Spring game: Black & Gold game, Saturday, April 20, TBA

Where: Robinson Stadium

Admission: Free

GSU is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season and return the storied program back to national prominence. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, and according to coach Williams all positions are up for grabs this spring and the coaching staff is looking for someone to step up and become the team’s breakout performer in 2013.

 

LSU

FBS: Southeastern Conference (SEC)

Location: Baton Rouge

2012 season record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

Head Coach: Les Miles

Spring game: Saturday, April 20 at 2 p.m.

Where: Tiger Stadium

Admission: Free

With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and several holes to be filled on both sides of the ball after sending a record 13 former players to this year’s NFL Combine, there are many compelling storylines in Death Valley this spring. The SEC West is one of the toughest and most competitive divisions in all of college football, but coach Miles always seems to have the Tigers in the SEC title hunt. This year should be no different.

 

Louisiana Tech

FBS: Conference USA (C-USA)

Location: Ruston

2012 season record: 9-3 (4-2 Western Athletic Conference)

Head Coach: Skip Holtz

Spring game:  Saturday, April 13, 2013, TBD

Where: Joe Aillet Stadium

Admission: Free

The Bulldogs prepare for their inaugural C-USA season with a new attitude and a new head coach. Holtz and his staff have inherited a potent offense that averaged a whopping 51.5 points last year, the most of any FBS school. However, Tech must replace some key offensive figures including Sammy Baugh Award winning quarterback Colby Cameron and wide receiver Quinton Patton. Fans in Ruston can’t wait to forget about last season’s disappointment over not participating in a bowl game, despite finishing the regular season 9-3.

 

McNeese State

FCS: Southland Conference (SLC)

Location: Lake Charles

2012 season record: 7-4 (4-3 SLC)

Head Coach: Matt Viator

Spring game: Gold and Blue game, Thursday, March 28 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Cowboy Stadium

Admission: Free

The McNeese State spring game is truly a fan event. Scheduled events leading up to the game include a tailgate featuring free food and drink for current season ticket holders from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Players will hold an autograph session following the contest on the concourse on the north end of the stadium. And for fans who can’t make it to the game, catch it streamed live at http://www.mcneesesports.com/

 

Nicholls State

FCS: Southland Conference (SLC)

Location: Thibodaux

2012 season record: 1-10 (0-7 SLC)

Head Coach: Charlie Stubbs

Spring game: Controlled scrimmage, Saturday, April 27, TBD

Where: John L. Guidry Stadium

Admission: Free

After playing three FBS schools for the first time last season, the Colonels are playing three more in 2013, including a season opener at Oregon. Stubbs has focused on building the program with local players as over 70 percent of the Nicholls roster last season was from Louisiana and 13 of the team’s 17 2013 signees are from in state. The Colonels are trying to rebound from back-to-back 1-10 seasons.

 

Northwestern State

FCS: Southland Conference (SLC)

Location: Natchitoches

2012 season record: 4-7 (2-5 SLC)

Head Coach: Jay Thomas

Spring game: 24th annual Joe Delaney Bowl, Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 1 p.m.

Where: Turpin Stadium

Admission: Free

Former Demon defensive line coach and assistant head coach (2010-2011) Jay Thomas returns to Natchitoches to right the ship in 2013 after four losing seasons under outgoing head coach Bradley Dale Peveto. NSU’s spring game is named the Delaney Bowl in honor of former star running back Joe Delaney, a budding NFL star with the Kansas City Chiefs who died tragically while trying to rescue three drowning children in 1983. Before the game, there is also a golf tournament named in his honor at the NSU Sports and Recreation Complex near campus to raise money for the school’s athletic foundation.

 

Southeastern Louisiana

FCS: Southland Conference (SLC)

Location: Hammond

2012 season record:  5-6 (5-2 SLC)

Head Coach: Ron Roberts

Spring game: Saturday, March 23 at 6 p.m.

Where: Strawberry Stadium

Admission: Free

The Lions will play six home games this season for the first time since 2009. Roberts is optimistic entering his second season at SLU that a competitive team will continue last year’s trend of bring in record crowds to Strawberry Stadium. Look for a heated battle for the starting quarterback spot after dual threat and former backup for the Oregon Ducks Bryan Bennett recently transferred to Southeastern with two years of FCS eligibility remaining.

 

Southern University

FCS: Southwestern Conference (SWAC)

Location: Baton Rouge

2012 season record: 4-7 (3-6 SWAC)

Head Coach: Dawson Odums

Spring game: Saturday, March 23, TBD.

Where: A.W. Mumford Stadium

Admission: Free

After signing 27 players to his first recruiting class at Southern, new coach Dawson Odums might have to dip into his young talent pool after injuries have already hampered the Jaguars this spring season. Although Odums feels that none of the injuries are serious, backups and newcomers alike could make the most of the situation by making an impact this spring and showing they belong in the starting lineup once the season rolls around. The Jags began the spring season back on Feb. 26, so coaches will have plenty of time to evaluate this year’s roster before the spring game and upcoming season.

 

Tulane University

FBS: Conference USA (C-USA)

Location: New Orleans

2012 season record: 2-10 (2-6 C-USA)

Head Coach: Curtis “C.J.” Johnson

Spring game: Was March 2. Tulane concluded spring practice March 9.

The Green Wave returns 16 starters from last season, eight each on offense and defense. This includes Biletnikoff Award candidate and senior wide receiver Ryan Grant, who led C-USA last season in receiving yards per game with an average of 95.8.

 

University of Louisiana-Lafayette

FBS: Sun Belt Conference (SBC)

Location: Lafayette

2012 season record: 9-4 (6-2 SBC)

Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth

Spring game: Saturday, April 20, TBD

Where: Cajun Field

The two-time defending New Orleans Bowl champion Ragin’ Cajuns began their 2013 spring season March 11. After consecutive 9-4 finishes the past two seasons, each tied for best in school history and culminating in their first ever back-to-back bowl victories, ULL fans have high expectations for their 2013 campaign. However, Hudspeth has been quick to point out that spring football begins a brand new season in which they “haven’t won a thing yet.”

 

University of Louisiana-Monroe

FBS: Sun Belt Conference (SBC)

Location: Monroe

2012 season record: 8-5 (6-2 SBC)

Head Coach: Todd Berry

Spring game: Saturday, March 23 at 1 p.m.

Where: Malone Stadium

The Warhawks are coming off of a successful 2012 season that began with a 34-31 overtime stunner over the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks in Little Rock, followed by competitive games against other so-called power conference foes such as Auburn and Baylor. Coach Berry has said he and his staff will make it a point to evaluate the younger, less experienced players on the roster this spring. Who knows, perhaps one or more of them will impress enough to find their way into the starting lineup next fall.