NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State legend Joe Delaney will be honored once again in northwest Louisiana as he’s been named the 2020 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl Carl Mikovich Sportsperson of the Year.
Delaney’s wife Carolyn will accept the award on his behalf at the Shreveport bowl game on Dec. 26.
After an All-American career as a running back and sprinter and notable Kansas City Chiefs’ tenure, Delaney died 37 years ago while attempting to save three children in a pond at Monroe’s Chennault Park even though Delaney couldn’t swim.
Delaney wore No. 37 with the Kansas City Chiefs, a number no Chief has worn since his death on June 29, 1983, at the age of 24.
This past June, a monument was dedicated to Delaney at Chennault Park.
“Joe represents everything the Sportsman of the Year embodies,” said Eric Barkley, the 2016 Independence Bowl Foundation Chairman, in a news release. “He was the best athlete I’ve ever seen and carried that to the highest level of his profession. Every time he touched the ball you knew it could be a highlight reel moment.
“And Joe was an even better person, greatly loved and respected by his teammates. He was confident yet very humble and even in his final moments exhibited his giving spirit.”
Barkley was a teammate of Delaney’s during the 1980 season at Northwestern State.
Gary Reasons, a former NSU teammate and member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the N-Club Hall of Fame, treasured Delaney.
“Having the opportunity to be a teammate of Joe Delaney at Northwestern for one season gave me the chance to see and learn what people mean when they speak of character,” Reasons told Doug Ireland, former NSU Sports Information Director and the current Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Chairman.
The path to stardom began at Haughton High School for Delaney, where he played wide receiver and gained attention from multiple Division I schools. He ultimately attended Northwestern State from 1977-1980 and became a two-time All-American running back for the Demons. Delaney ranked eighth in the country in all-purpose yards his senior year, and he completed his NSU career with 3,047 rushing yards, 31 touchdowns and 188 points scored. Delaney was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. Delaney’s no. 44 was retired in the fall of 1983 following his passing.
At NSU, Delaney also starred on the track team – winning the NCAA 400-meter relay in 1981 and broke the program’s 200-meter record with a time of 20.64 seconds.
Following his tremendous college career, Delaney was selected by the Chiefs in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft. He enjoyed a record-breaking season in his rookie year in Kansas City, breaking the Chiefs record for most yards in a season (1,121), most yards in a game (193 vs. the Houston Oilers), most consecutive 100-yard games (three) and most 100-yard games in a season (five). Delaney’s rookie season earned him the United Press International (UPI) American Football Conference (AFC) Rookie of the Year Award and earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.
In his second NFL season, an eye injury and strike-shortened season limited him to just 380 rushing yards. He registered 1,811 all-purpose yards during his career.
On June 29, 1983, Delaney was at an amusement park in Chennault Park in Monroe when he dove into a pond – despite not knowing how to swim – to save three children. He managed to save one of the three children, but tragically drowned during the rescue attempt.
Delaney’s impact still rings loud to this day. The Delaney 37 Foundation was created in the legacy of Joe Delaney, and the mission of the foundation is to mentor, educate, promote leadership development, teach financial literacy and promote water safety to youth. NSU awards the Joe Delaney Memorial Leadership Award to its permanent team captains each year, and the NSU football spring game is named the “Delaney Bowl.” Along with that, a permanent shrine honoring Delaney sits at NSU Turpin Stadium and his retired No. 44 jersey hangs in the athletics facility.
A monument to honor Delaney’s heroism was unveiled in Monroe’s Chennault Park on June 27, 2020. Joe Delaney Memorial Park also opened to the public on October 29, 2016 in his hometown of Haughton.
Many of the greatest athletes from Shreveport-Bossier City area have been honored with the Carl Mikovich Sportsperson of the Year Award – including NFL players Dak Prescott (2019) and Arnaz Battle (2002); professional tennis player Ryan Harrison (2018); pro golfers Hal Sutton (1983), David Toms (1997) and Sam Burns (2014); sportscaster Tim Brando (1992); MLB players Todd Walker (1998) and Scott Baker (2007).