65 Toss Power Trap Productions Presents: Joe Delaney
It’s here! A great new short film from the wonderful film production company at the Kansas City Chiefs.
65 Toss Power Trap Productions Presents: Joe Delaney
It’s here! A great new short film from the wonderful film production company at the Kansas City Chiefs.
Arrowhead Stadium: Kansas City, MO — October 18, 1981
Good God the place was jumping. Thousands, collected themselves as they always did, for the deep, blunt baritone — that ended all national anthems at Arrowhead. Chiefs!, they all shouted.
The rookie in him needed to exhale the nervousness into the atmosphere. He jutted his arms back, bent at the elbow as if trying to crack or loosen a kink in his wiring. He had a stadium breathing right back down on him and they seemed louder today. Impossible loud, in the cement bowl of lights. A loud that was medicated and strong. The great beer buzz and liquor union. Everyone high and draped in anything red.
The day was cold and gray and windy. The lights were on early, even though the sun was still up. Forty-four mile an hour winds. Beer cups and game programs and hot dog wrappers littered the sidelines. The dozens of volunteers on trash duty were getting a workout. They had to move before any of it made the field. Windy-windy on the red sea of Chiefs’ fans.
K.C. was playing football again and like Denver, they were winning. Back to back weeks of solid play against playoff caliber ball clubs. This was the crap every fan craved, even the starved, who go season after season with nothing but chump change.
Seventy-four thousand and something was the winning guess on the scoreboard. So much red. Shouts that he couldn’t fully dissect. Were they aimed at him? The stadium was upset with Kenney too, who threw two interceptions in the first half, and although the Chiefs were up 14-0 at the half, everyone knew it should have been 21 or 24. Denver was too good to have slipups.
Joe walked over to the bench, he was going to sit down, but decided against it. He was reeling over the last fumble. The ball wasn’t wet, it was nobody’s fault but his. The paper was going to talk about his fumbles. Levy was going to talk about it after the game. He was going to talk to him about it Monday, in the office near the film room. He was going to be looking down at his notes, while talking to Joe. He was going to remind him about things that shouldn’t need reminding.
It looked as if the outer lip of Arrowhead was touching the clouds and if the structure curled up, just a little more, it could be a half pipe. Skateboard paradise that would end up killing a kid. And if the nose bleed seats really bled, Joe wondered where the drips of red would land. Would they drop on his helmet? Tap his shoulder? His shoes? Would this all dot him, like drips of paint? Or maybe right on his own hand if he stuck it out, like how one asks for money, without saying a word.
As Joe watched the defense give up its first TD in the third he had a flicker of his father in the back bedroom, sleepy and quiet, home for a day before leaving for the road again for another week in his old semi. His father was resting in that bed, facing the wall, back toward Joe, “You ain’t going to be no football player. You should know that.” He coughed, “Football,” his laugh void of amusement, of any delight. “You have time for football.”
Joe’s sisters and his mother had been helping him do his chores so he could sneak off to practice at the high school. It was an easy cover, with his father’s routes keeping him away late, or even weeks at a time. Even when the scouts pulled up in their out-of-town cars. They were in little Haughton to see Joe Delaney. Scouts from Division 1 schools were coming to watch Joe run down the field. Then they started to stop by the house. Someone had pointed out which one was the Delaney house.
When Joe would explode out of the backfield, his father needed to feel what that blast of the crowd felt like. How the blood would rush to your face. Instead his dad nursed a new ulcer with a jug of milk, sitting on the porch or working on his truck with a mechanic light forked into the inner wall of the hood. Haughton High field all lit up – the lights must of looked biblical above the trees, over the tracks. With him elbow deep in work and Joe blazing down a field, the crowd, the crowd so loud. It was like never looking up at the circus parade passing by your bedroom window.
Joe had felt strong and good running out of the tunnel and into the sea of red. The blonde on the brown and white horse, dressed like Pocahontas, waving the big bold Chief’s flag. The horse shit in the end zone, and the son or nephew of someone in the front office that landed the on-field job, raced to make it disappear, in a flash. Something he could tell his buddies tomorrow.
Denver was getting used to winning ball games. A streak of four and looking for its fifth. Joe wore a long sleeve red shirt under his home jersey. His left wrist and forearm taped-up white, no fingers though. Just enough to tighten up the web that connects the thumb and index.
Denver’s pursuit was fast, quicker than the films the Chiefs had watched earlier in the week. When the Denver D took a look at the rookie back, all they could see was a quick little shit. Short and thin and fast. Without a full season under him, he was still just a draft pick. Still a kid from small Haughton, Louisiana, with two pairs of pants to his name. A thin-twin that still needed to prove something to the Red Sea.
Instead, he fumbled. Not once, not twice, three times. They were taking candy from the baby wearing #37. Eyes still so fierce? How can they be so fierce? You’ve coughed up the ball three times today. Three times a lady. Three times Delaney. Pound sand, Delaney. Pound sand.
Joe put his head into it when he needed to. Enough to pick up that extra half yard, yet he did more damage by inflaming the corners. Everyone was looking for a head-on crash. Delaney was the perfect specimen for head on crashes. Mike Singletary would years later say that the most satisfying hit was one he had on Joe Delaney. A crunch that took Joe out of that game. Everyone on defense wanted to see themselves on highlight reels.
Anyway, Denver was finding every hole as fast as Joe would; forcing him to cough up and fumble the three balls. Denver’s Nose Tackle smiled in the huddle before putting his mouth guard back in, under his big brown moustache, that was wet from the game. The runt that likes to ram, gets his big break because everyone else is too hurt to play. Hope you have a back-up plan.
Joe shook his head to ignore, but he was distracted. Next play the outside linebacker, who just blitzed, shouted. “Hope you have a plan-b. For your sake.” He was talking to Joe. “You’re lucky if you make it to December, Country. Country-boy.”
They’re going to cut your ass. A little shit that thinks he’s a ram. Thirty-Seven is going to flip burgers, not carry footballs. They make you managers of the French fries. The Milkshake Manager. French fry boy. You fumble French fries? Fries are greasy, thirty-SehVIN.
It got itchier in the third. Not that Joe was the entire problem, he just wasn’t the fix. No two, TD cushion anymore for K.C. One strike and Denver would tie it up.
But… the little shit was back. Joe took the ball from Kenny’s right, Budde led the way. A tuft of hair bounced out of the back of Budde’s helmet. Joe’s left hand nearly grazed Budde as if Joe were blind and trying to keep up with his dog.
The ball, tucked firmly at his right, and as if attached by rib was safe. Three fumbles were not going to become four. Budde, took out the defensive back. Joe cut in, on the left side of Budde. Denver’s Gradishar shot up into Joe’s unprotected left. Gradishar then grazed Joe’s back, and dove hopelessly for a shoe string tackle, only to pound-smack the turf. Then there was Denver’s other linebacker and another Defensive Back on Joe’s right. But Joe hit power drive and was gone — 77 yards into the Broncos’ end zone.
Denver’s Louis Wright, who was playing pro-ball when Joe was still in high school, pulled Joe down by the collar inside of the end zone. Joe bounced back up. It was business. Day at the office. In basket, out basket. Paycheck. Six points. Joe spiked the ball and jogged out of the mess of the huffing and puffing that congregated in the end zone. But then it all turned off:
The yellow flag on the turf.
Red was caught holding.
No six points. No 77 yards. No deposit.
Denver quickly returned with a touchdown which put them ever closer to wrapping it up. There were five minutes left and after two weeks of 100-yard games, Joe was looking at logging in a paltry sixty. While the defense was out on the field he paced, staying loose. His right row of knuckles were skinned with strawberry burns. He sucked on the one that had just barely opened. He was cold. He looked up at the giant bowl of Arrowhead, chewing his pink gum that was no longer sweet.
A crazy, enthusiastic bird was lunging in down toward the field and sidelines, but knew better than to land. A lone carrion crow, batting its wings, low and lower in the wind — headed for the line of popcorn littered along the sideline.
Joe stopped looking up and around, he needed to settle in on a frame of mind before he’d have to head back out. Back on the field he would need to find that crease. It’s the fruit in every running play. He needed to make it his cavern. Find the crease, find the hole.
The emptiness of the seventy-seven yards taken from him back in the third was now a pair of tail lights in the distance. But he was looking for redemption. Even after the 64-yard pass to Marshall for a score.
Denver was planning to tie, but after a railroad sack, the Broncos had to scrap plans for a TD, and go for a field goal midway in the fourth. A thirty-seven yarder that Denver missed so horribly that it made Arrowhead wonder what the Denver kicker was looking at.
With K.C. back on O the kinetic flashes of red garb, extending arms and fists, could have been a stadium of fire-eaters, spitting their flame toward the sky. It made Joe break a hard swallow as he jogged out to the field, snapping his helmet, tugging at his wrist bands. The first play out was a bust. Joe was hit with a 2-yard loss. A turf pounder. Now he grew anxious. He was in the shit.
In the huddle, same play was called by Bill Kenny. Joe took the ball from Kenney’s right. The white jerseys of Denver congested the line that Joe was supposed to barrel through. Instead of pressing, he cut back for an extra second, like letting your hand dangle out the car window just a little longer, a little bit closer to the upcoming mailbox. Then there it was. It was small, but it was a hole. He was quick about it, he was in; — tangled up some, then broke the tackle. Yep, he found the crease. The Denver linebackers were too hyper and impatient. Joe headed down the center. Then he was gone. Gone baby gone. Eighty-two yards! Interstate driving. Untouched. Unscathed. No flag. Just end zone. As quick as someone draws a line across a piece of paper he was in the end zone. For real. He looked up at the nose bleeds. The bowl of red garb, it all looked like it was being shaken. That was it. The game was all sewn up, by the kid from Haughton.
Manhattan, New York – CBS Studios
June 29, 1983 — 5:53:10 PM
The world map on the wall behind him was this big sucker. A relief map of coastlines, pitted waterways, and gulfs. Africa at his right shoulder, Indonesia to his left. From the neck down, Dan Rather was self imposed across the Indian Ocean. Heroic and bold in his delivery of the Nightly News for the 29th day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand nine-hundred and eighty three. Go, Dan…
Big Dan was sporting a striped necktie with his tweed suit. The dark beneath his eyes had faded nicely into studio makeup and Dan’s summer tan, but his hair was parted into this difficult clump. Yeah, the handsome jaw was there, but the dimple on the chin had begun to lose most of its redeeming quality.
Big Dan opened with tuition credits, followed by Reagan’s campaign stop in Kentucky. Updates on Jimmy Carter’s briefing book which was lifted from his desk drawer back in nineteen-eighty. Commercials for Ford Tempo rang up, and Sanka, Emery, and Cigna, all flashing and flicking until Rather was back.
Acid rain was falling in Canada because U.S. factories apparently liked to pump sulfur and nitrogen oxide up into the clouds. Further up in that sky, where blue meets black, experts try to correct the orbit of a newly launched satellite. With a quick glance to his desk, to the next sheet of paper, Rather sheds light on the approval of a meaty defense budget, and how the defense department assigns its contracts.
As he approached the end of the newscast, his eyes, not quite beady, continued to trail the words across the teleprompter. You could tell he was wrapping things up. His eyes blinked a total fifteen times through his final segment. Which wasn’t noticeable, unless someone counting.
In Monroe, Louisiana late today, police said that a man identified as Joe Delaney, star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, drown, trying to rescue a child. Witnesses say Delaney jumped into a lake in a public park when he saw three youngsters in trouble. Delaney and the eleven year old boy he was trying to aid, drown; another youngster was reported to be in critical condition.
– James Blessington – 2007
The last hours of his life…. On HWY 20 heading east. Haughton to Ruston. Here, I try to grasp what the thoughts could be, whirling through Joe’s head.
SIDE-NOTE: To the wonderful citizens of both Haughton and Ruston, sorry for butchering the name so badly on the video– trying to drive and film, that’s my only excuse.
This was supposed to be the great American Novel. This blog that is. This journey all started with me getting off the couch in my comfy home in my comfy suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From the couch I packed two bags and got on a plane to Louisiana. (Oh, totally unrelated, I was wearing this nice and bulky medical moon-boot — healing a fractured foot from playing basketball with my nephews). I hid the boot and the limp with everyone I met on the trip — I was a stranger enough, I didn’t need any other strikes.
Anyway, I was there, in the deep south, to find the story of Joe Delaney. I was and still am, dumbfounded at why there isn’t more information out there about Joe’s story and his amazing life that ended way too soon. Here, with this blog, I hope to take a giant step forward to change all of that.
I never intended to become a blogger, I’m a fiction writer that perfers pen to notebook, until I need to send the work out for submissions to magazines, and editors, and agents, it is then, and only then, that a computer is added to the mix. But all first drafts — a pen. A Bic pen, usually.
Perhaps, perhaps someday this will become the book I envisioned, or a movie, or a documentary, or a documentary of making the movie, or a documentary on writing the book, or a movie detailing every painstaking detail of constructing this blog for that matter. I have no idea, really. There is no plan is the plan.
What I have for you is a work in progress to present to you three years of research, on Joe, which includes interviews, video footage, pictures, news clippings from the 1980’s, and of course lots of commentary by yours truly, and hopefully commentary by you, the visitor of this blog. Bless you all, I love you already.
-James Blessington, December 2009
My plan is to release what I have, what I have learned, and what I know about Joe’s story in segments. One fell swoop of everything would dimish some important details, as well as overwhelm with information overload.
The focus of this blog is to honor Joe Delaney, a person that gave his life attempting to save the lives of three boys in need of help. This blog is the headquarters for a Joe Delaney inspired movement. A movement to properly honor this fallen hero, and also a place to promote the act of helping others in need.
The title of this blog and website is a bold one — none of us will be Joe Delaney, of course. As ambitious and well intentioned as it is to honor someone that gave their life to save another, nothing can be done to reverse the irrevocable. The phrase I am Joe Delaney is meant to embody a spirit, that Joe gave off, not merely on that fateful hot afternoon in Monroe, Louisiana, but everyday of his life. The days even after he “made it”, were spent helping others, such as the old man with the lawn that needed mowing, the at-risk youth that needed the funds to purchase sporting equipment, the list goes on and on… (to be continued).