Joe "Speed" Braney was born in Ireland in 1893. His family immigrated to the United States and he grew up in the Olneyville section of Providence. He would go to prep school at Dean Academy where he played football and basketball. He took his gridiron skills to Syracuse University where he played on the freshman football team and earn a varsity letter for the Orangemen in 1915. He transferred to Fordham University the next year and again earned a letter in football for the Rams in 1916. While at Fordham in 1917 he was one of the first to join the Fordham Ambulance Unit that sailed to France to join the war effort. Practically all of the 1916 varsity eleven had enlisted. Braney served 30 months and was assigned to a sector of the Western Front. During a heavy bombardment his unit volunteered to go out into "No Man's Land" and bring in some wounded comrades. They worked 72 hours straight without rest. For his heroic efforts he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Army for conspicuous bravery.
On his return home he resumed his football career (at end and guard) with the Providence Steam Roller in 1919. He would be a mainstay on the Roller for eight campaigns. He was captain of the team for five seasons (1920-24) and led them to the New England Professional Football Championship in 1923. He coached the 1924 squad that won the the mythical "undisputed championship of the Northeast" prior to entering the NFL in 1925. He also played pro basketball at the center position for the Steam Roller Five in 1921. The team was captained by Lou Pieri (future owner of the R.I. Auditorium) and named after the number of Steam Roller football players on it. He played for the St. Edwards basketball team (1921-22) and Broadway five (1921). Like many leading athletes of the era Braney lent his hand to coaching. From 1921 to 1926 he was in charge of the athletic teams at La Salle Academy. He led the football and baseball teams and he became the first coach of the school's basketball team in 1925.