The Tragic Death of Football Star, Joe Delaney

Following Delaney’s record-setting 196 yard rushing performance against the Houston Oilers on November 15, 1981, Oilers defensive end (and future Pro Football Hall of FamerElvin Bethea was quoted in saying:

I’ve played against the best–O.J. SimpsonGale SayersWalter Payton and (Delaney) ranks right up there with them…He is great with a capital G.

In 1983, Joe Delaney drowned while trying to save some kids in a water drainage pit that had been dug close to a freeway amusement park in Monroe, Louisiana. The dirt was needed to build up an earthen foundation for one of the water slides. The park had a few fiberglass water slides, concession stand and arcade. This type of freeway water park was popular in the 70s/80s… and I mean these types of water parks were everywhere back then. A ticket was cheap too, only costing a few bucks to gain entry. Most of these parks are gone and are not cost-effective businesses today, due to high insurance liability. In the photo below, you can see the pond Joe drowned in and where some of the water slides were installed. There was a fence separating the park and the drainage pond.

Footage and song from the tragedy:

The day he died, the park hosted a promotional “Free Day”, and was quickly filled to capacity. A few kids got impatient waiting in line and decided to play in the adjacent drainage pond. The water was deeper than they could have imagined and they were in trouble since they did not know how to swim. Joe saved one kid but he and two others drowned that day. Joe couldn’t swim at all. He was 24 years old.

Photo Note:  The figure 8 in the lower center of the pic below and another outline by the entrance on Sesame St. Those were locations of water slides or rides of some sort at Critter’s Creek amusement & water park. Of course, the grass has grown a bit in 30 years.

Critter's Creek was a water park with an arcade. It had several fiberglass water slides that were popular in the 70s/80s. Those types of water parks were everywhere, but are gone today, due to insurance liability.

Critter’s Creek was a water park with an arcade.

Joe’s Story

Delaney had a lifelong history of helping others, and once paid for the funeral of a former teacher whose family could not afford a proper service. On June 29, 1983, Delaney, who was living in nearby Ruston, Louisiana, went with friends to Critter’s Creek, an amusement park at Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana. While reportedly discouraging swimming children from venturing too far out in a pond, Delaney dove in to save three children who were screaming for help, floundering in a water hole left by recent construction work. The water hole, which covered two acres and was 20 feet deep, was not intended for swimming but to add to the park’s aesthetics. Despite his inexperienced swimming, Delaney tried to rescue the children:  One child managed to get out of the water with no harm and another was taken to an emergency room where he later died; police recovered the body of Delaney and one child. The amusement park has since been closed to the public.

This video pieces together what happened that day:

Here is the pond where he died: