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Doing what's right: Taking a lesson from Delaney

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Stefan Alford
  • 332 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Online shopping can be addictive in the deployed environment - whether it's ordering books, CDs, or games to help pass whatever off-duty time is available after a 12- or 14-hour shift. Of course, one should remember that, if married, your spouse will see those charges in the monthly bank statement.

"You bought a trading card?!" My wife e-mailed me the other day. Now, mind you, I have too many sports card albums collecting dust in my attic to even count, and it's an expensive habit that I set aside almost 10 years ago. But, yes, I replied to her, I did purchase a sports card to replace one that used to sit on my office desk before disappearing during my last PCS move.

It's a 1982 rookie card of all-pro American Football Conference rushing leader Joe Delaney.

Joe who?

That's the reaction this card usually evokes from those expecting perhaps a Dan Marino or John Elway card behind the hard plastic casing reserved for displaying cards with high monetary values. Although Delaney entered the National Football League around the same time as the aforementioned Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and had a more promising career start than both of them, he unfortunately isn't as well remembered - and he should be.

In this day and age of big-money sports stars with egos to match - athletes who sign multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals before playing their first game - Delaney's card reminds me of what a true role model should be.

When my wife asked what this card was worth, I happily explained its value. It had nothing to do with Delaney being named the AFC Rookie of the Year by United Press International, being a Pro Bowl selection or setting four team rushing records that would stand for more than 20 years. It had to do with one heroic act in the summer of 1983.

While on an outing to a small Louisiana amusement park, he heard some kids yelling for help and saw three children drowning in a nearby lake. He reacted quickly and jumped in to try to save them. Not a big deal, except for the fact that Delaney himself didn't know how to swim. Despite that, he risked his life and tried to help. Unfortunately he drowned, as did two of the three children.

Delaney was on the verge of NFL stardom and the associated wealth that comes with it, and he could have easily opted to try to help those children by running to find other assistance, which would have taken precious time. Instead, he did what he felt provided the best possible chance to save their lives.

Sadly, sometimes a risk becomes a sacrifice. It's one that all of us who wear the uniform in a hostile environment take each day to help people we don't know any more than Delaney knew those children. But we do it for the same reason that he did, because we know it's the right thing to do.

So for me, that modestly-priced $3.95 card has more value than any hundred-dollar Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith card ever could - and my wife was okay with that.