Joe DeLamielleure didn’t dive into football because of a love for the game. The Hall of Fame offensive linemen is one of the only players in NFL history who can say they’ve blocked for multiple MVP award winners, but that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for his family.
That’s not a cliché. DeLamielleure grew up with nine siblings and one bathroom. He just wanted to shower.
So he played football. He loved the game, yes, but the school provided a shower he could use each day.
“I can’t even imagine a kid growing up in our house,” DeLamielleure said. “There was no mercy.”
DeLamielleure’s family helped mold him into who he is today, but he wasn’t always the stocky, tough figure Browns fans remember from his five seasons in Cleveland from 1980-1984.
He was originally on the bottom, both in stature and seniority, when he was around his nine other siblings. Four of whom were older brothers, who guarded the younger DeLamielleure around their hometown of Center Line, Michigan.
“I had it made,” DeLamielleure said. “So everyday I’d walk down the street and everybody said, ‘Oh, don’t touch him. It’s DeLamielleure. His brothers will kick your rear end.’”
After a dominant high school career as an offensive lineman, DeLamielleure landed on the fast track to NFL stardom roughly an hour away from home at Michigan State, where he won All-American honors and eventually became the first-round pick for the Bills in 1973.
He started his professional career paving the path for O.J. Simpson, a two-time MVP winner during the Buffalo Bills’ era of “The Electric Company,” and blocked for a third MVP winner in Brian Sipe in 1980 when “The Kardiac Kids” ascended the NFL ranks.
DeLamielleure instantly became a part of NFL history in his first game with the Bills. Against the New England Patriots, he starred on an offensive line that helped Simpson run for 250 yards, which was then the record for most rushing yards produced by a player in a single game.
For DeLamielleure, that was far from what he considers one of his most significant games. That came on Thanksgiving Day in 1976, when the Bills traveled to Detroit to play the Lions.
The Cleveland Browns Presents: Club 46 - player stories through generations of football
DeLamielleure had always gone to Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving game with his dad. In 1962, DeLamielleure, 11 at the time, watched the Lions sack Bart Starr 11 times in the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre,” one of the most prolific Thanksgiving games in NFL history.
That’s when DeLamielleure realized his NFL dream. He wanted to play in the NFL.
He told his dad about it. His father said, “When you do, I'll be here.”
But DeLamielleure’s dad told him he wouldn’t be there for the Thanksgiving game in 1976. He suffered a heart attack in the weeks before the game and hadn’t been released from the hospital.
At the game, DeLamielleure helped Simpson break his single-game record. Again. This time it was for 273 yards.
When DeLamielleure walked back to the locker room, he saw his dad. He checked out of the hospital and made it to the stadium after all.
“Dad, what the heck are you doing?” DeLamielleure said. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“I told you. I’m not going to forget,” his dad said. “You told me you're going to play. I told you I'm going to be here.”
DeLamielleure was traded to the Browns in 1980, a season in which he calls the most memorable of his 13-year career.
He loved the ferocity of the defense. He couldn’t get over the incredible growth from Sipe, who appeared to improve every game. The last-minute finishes tore at the heart of every Browns fan, yet Cleveland finished the season 11-5.
“I thought, ‘Wow, we got a rare opportunity,’” DeLamielleure said. “I’m going to go here and we’re going to go the Super Bowl.”
That’s why DeLamielleure still thinks about “Red Right 88” to this day. He’ll hear about the play from Browns fans on certain occasions, and the play always comes up in conversations he has about the season.
He, like every other Browns fan who remembers the play, wishes it went differently.
“I heard (the ball) go ‘whoosh’ by me,” DeLamielleure said. “I’ve got a fat head. I wish the ball would’ve hit me in the head.”
DeLamielleure retired in 1983. His footprint in the NFL was already solidified, but in 2009, DeLamielleure took a much larger step toward something bigger than football.
With the help of two college friends, DeLamielleure biked from the 50-yard line at Spartan Stadium to Matamoros, Mexico, to raise money for an orphanage.
The idea originally came from Brad Van Pelt, who played with DeLamielleure at Michigan State and spent 14 seasons in the NFL. The crew went forward with the idea in memory of Van Pelt after he died of an apparent heart attack.
After nearly 2,000 miles of biking, DeLamielleure and the group raised $1 million for an orphanage that changed the lives of 69 children.
“We were rolling,” said DeLamielleure, who spent three weeks receiving lessons on how to ride a bike before the trip and lost 10 pounds after the journey. “It’s amazing. It’s a crazy story.”
It was always about family for DeLamielleure. He always knew from his childhood how important a family can be, so he wanted to give back in a way larger than football.
Six decades after living in a house with nine other siblings that propelled him to an illustrious NFL career, he did.