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Let us now go down the road and around the bend from Joe's house on West Madison Street in Haughton to the Galilee Baptist Church...to listen to the people eulogize him. The words are all real, but you're going to have to imagine the scene, because when Joe died there were so many people, from far and wide, who wanted to honor him that his parish church, the Galilee, couldn't be used for the services. They had to be held in the largest building in town, the high school gym—HOME OF THE BUCCANEERS it Says on one wall, over an American flag. Joe rested there in an open casket before the services.
It was July 4, Independence Day, brutally hot, and a number of mourners passed out. Many Chiefs and other NFL players came, but the local people watched Norma Hunt especially closely. She's the wife of Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Chiefs, and if the home folks were impressed that this millionaire had come to pay his respects to Joe Alton Delaney, they were moved that his wife had come.
But for the purpose of the retelling, we're not in the Hades-hot gym. Instead it's a soft Loosiana autumn night—midweek, no football games—and we're assembled at the Galilee to hear the encomiums for the late Joe Delaney.
Galilee was originally used by both races, the whites letting their slaves worship there on Sabbath afternoons. Since 1863, after Vicksburg fell and that part of the Confederacy began to crumble, the blacks have had Galilee to themselves. These days the church is located in a neat, solid red-brick chapel, and Joe spent his Sunday mornings there during the off-season. He was an usher. His spot was in the back, just to the left as you come in. A little sign there says USHER, and Joe's folded chair is still in place, leaning against the wall. Look hard; you might see him there as his friends begin to enter.
Outside, a harvest moon ducks out from behind the clouds. Inside, the Rev. W.B. James is presiding. He's a trim little man who has known the Delaneys for years. Back in the Depression he walked to the Slap Chapel school for the colored with Joe's late father, Woodrow, and Woodrow's twin—Joe had twins on both sides of his family. More than 40 years later, two of the Rev. James's sons played with Joe on the football team at what's called Northwestern Louisiana, down in Natchitoches, which is pronounced NAK-a-tish.
Now the Rev. James stands in his pulpit and bids the people talk about Joe. Scour the area and Kansas City, too, and you'll never hear a bad word about Joe Delaney. He was a hero at the last instant, but he'd been a good man all the time leading up to it.
Marv Levy, who was Joe's coach in both his years at Kansas City, speaks first. Levy had no idea how talented Delaney was when the Chiefs drafted him in the second round in '81. Joe was penciled in as a "situation back," but in 1981 he gained 1.121 yards, started in the Pro Bowl and was AFC Rookie of the Year. Levy says. "Joe was a person who was genuine and honest right to the core of his being."
He sits down, and near him A.L. Williams, who coached Joe at Northwestern Louisiana, gets up. The football people are over on one side, more or less, and the home folks are on the other, with the family up front, all save Uncle Frankie Joe, Eunice's baby brother, for whom Joe was named. Of all his nephews, Uncle Frankie Joe was especially close to Joe. The two of them and Lucille would often sing together. But Uncle Frankie Joe wouldn't go to the funeral services, hasn't visited Joe's grave yet and, when Eunice gave him first crack at Joe's belongings, he wouldn't take a thing. So he wouldn't be here at the Galilee on this night, either.
Coach Williams speaks now. He says: "The first year Joe was up in Kansas City, Les Miller, the Chiefs' director of player personnel, called me on the phone. He said, 'I want to talk to you about one of your players.' I thought something was wrong. But then he said. 'I just wanted to tell you that Joe Delaney is the finest young man and the hardest worker we've ever had here.'
"You know when Joe came to Northwestern he was a wide receiver. The night I signed him, we went and sat on the fender of my car, and I promised him he could play there because he thought his best chance to make the pros was at that position. But we had a few injuries to running backs early in his freshman year, and Joe came to me and said if we needed a running back he'd switch and play there.