"There've been people in this room who, when the significant events of my life occurred, were literally knocking on my door, were bringing, you know, a roasted chicken to the house because you knew things were so messed up, no one was able to think about eating," Biden recalled of the 1972 tragedy. "There were people who were there, I could go around the room, and a lot of people aren't here in this room, would just come by, pick up the boys and they'd take them. Take them to everything from the beach to the amusement park. This is a big deal. You're a big deal."
A month later in Greensburg, Pa., Biden shed tears once again as he thanked the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers' owner Art Rooney for also helping him and his sons in the aftermath of the car crash.
Rooney sent Steelers' fullback Rocky Bleier to Wilmington to deliver footballs to Beau and Hunter just days before Christmas 1972.
"I said guys where'd you get the ball, and they said 'Daddy, Rocky Bleier gave it to us,'" Biden said Sept. 25 as his eyes welled over with tears. "Mr. Rooney Sr., Dan's dad, had, without any fanfare, without, without any announcement, without anything other than his incredible decency. ... I really apologize, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have tried to do this."
But Biden overcame the car crash, just as he did a bout with two aneurysms during his failed 1988 presidential campaign. Even during his last two months on the trail, the senator has faced family challenges.
A day after the lawmaker's vice presidential debate, Biden's son Beau deployed to Iraq, with Biden delivering a brief address at the departure ceremony in Dover, Del.
"Members of the National Guard," Biden began, before pausing for a few seconds to compose himself as he looked out at the troops. "I have come here many times before as a Delawarean, as a U.S. senator, but today I come, as you prepare to deploy, as a father, a father who got some sage advice from his son this morning -- 'Dad, keep it short. We're in formation.'"
Biden's rough week in early October quickly worsened shortly thereafter, when wife Jill's mother died after a long illness, leading to Biden temporarily suspending his campaign to grieve for his mother-in-law.
But as he has done throughout his career, the senator battled through his personal travails, returning to the campaign trail the next week, where he resumed being at once Obama's best advocate, though at other times one of his biggest liabilities.
"I get that there's a tendency to obsess about contrived controversies," said Wade. "But I'm convinced that when this campaign is over, for the first time in a long time, the pundits will say that vice presidential sections did matter and Joe Biden will be remembered as 2008's unsung hero, chief validator and defender in chief."