Catching up with ... Jake Delhomme
By Dave Richard
(April 2, 2003) -- Outside of New Orleans, not many people knew about Jake Delhomme until a 1999 game on Christmas Eve against Dallas. Delhomme, getting a shot in Week 16 because the Saints had only won two games with Billy Joe Tolliver and Billy Joe Hobert, romped the Cowboys and helped the Saints to an improbable 31-24 win. In his first NFL game, Delhomme passed for two touchdowns and ran for another while completing 16 of 27 passes for 278 yards.
Delhomme bided his time as a backup behind Aaron Brooks, not seeing any action on the playing field in 2000 or 2001. Last season, he played in four games, completing only 8 of 10 passes. It wasn't until this offseason that another team had a chance to sign Delhomme, who became an unrestricted free agent after five years in New Orleans. On March 5, coach John Fox and the Carolina Panthers stepped up to the plate, signing Delhomme to a two-year deal.
While participating in Carolina's offseason conditioning drills, the Louisiana native spent some time with NFL.com talking movies, cajun food and life as an NFL quarterback.
You're in North Carolina now. Is that where you'll spend most of your offseason?
Delhomme: The majority of my offseason is spent back in Breaux Bridge, La. That's my hometown and where my permanent residency is at.
Is there anything we should know about Breaux Bridge?
Delhomme: It is the crawfish capital of the world, and we are also home to a former Miss USA, Ali Landry. She was the girl in those Dorito commercials.
Whoa! She's cute. Did you know her?
Delhomme: Yeah, I knew her growing up a little bit.
You didn't happen to date her, did you?
Delhomme: No, never did. We went to different high schools.
You've been cut three times in your career, but you're only on your second team. How did this happen?
Delhomme: I got cut my first year in New Orleans in 1997 -- I kind of knew I was going to, I was a "camp arm," so to speak. Then I got brought back to the practice squad later in the year. Then the next year, I was on the roster for the first six weeks and then the Saints picked up Kerry Collins. Well, I got cut and went right down to the practice squad. I never really left, but don't get me wrong, I took a really big pay cut.
The following year, 1999, I got cut again, had a bunch of different workouts and the Saints signed me back toward the latter part of the year. I started the last two games for them [one was the game against Dallas, the other was a loss at Carolina]. Ever since the Jim Haslett regime came in, I've been there until now.
What were some of the positives of being a backup in New Orleans?
Delhomme: I think anytime you're a backup, the thing you can do is learn. With coach Haslett, coach [offensive coordinator Mike] McCarthy and their new system they brought in 2000, I learned a lot of football -- football I've never learned before. I learned a lot of offense and became part of a pretty good football team. We went to the playoffs the first year, won the first playoff game in Saints history, and I was able to learn and grow as a quarterback. The more you learn, the better you are in this business.
When the 2003 offseason got rolling, you were one of the most sought-after players available. Take me through the process of going from backup to a potential starter in less than two months. Were you surprised by the amount of attention you garnered?
Delhomme: I wasn't quite sure if I was going to have any interest. I'll be honest with you -- toward the latter part of the season in New Orleans, we were just so worried about trying to make the playoffs. I was able to play a little bit in a couple of games last year and things went well. So after the season, teams talked to my agent and there was some positive feedback going around. I was looking for a chance to compete for a starting job, and if it wasn't out there, then I was going to re-sign with New Orleans. It was that simple.
So why Carolina?
Delhomme: I visited Carolina and Dallas. There were a couple of other teams that wanted to bring me in, but these two seemed like the most serious. And you know, being in the same division as Carolina, I got to know what they were about, saw what coach Fox did with the first year. The thing that stuck in my mind is that they started 3-0, then lost eight in a row, then they won four of their last five. We played them in our last game of the season. Here we were -- the Saints started the year so well and all we needed to do was win one of our last three games and we couldn't do it. For the Panthers to win four of their last five when they were out of playoff contention, and the way they played that last game, it proved they were character guys who stuck together through tough times and had a coach who kept them together through those tough times.
Before you signed with Carolina, you met with Bill Parcells and the Cowboys. Did he impress you, and why didn't it work out there?
Delhomme: Yeah, he did impress me. I had a great visit with him and quarterbacks coach Sean Payton. I almost went there, but things work out for different reasons. Carolina was a better fit. And honestly, money was a little different; being cut three times already, I know this profession doesn't last forever. They make you retire in this league, you don't retire on your own. I'd like to go out on my terms rather than someone else's.
I heard you had the chance to meet DeShaun Foster. What was he like?
Delhomme: I met him when I was visiting here and went out to lunch with coach Fox and GM Marty Hurney. I met him and Dee Brown, another running back, and they were just really happy, really good guys. They came up to the table and were happy to see the coach. You can tell when guys are faking it and when guys aren't, and you get that sense they really like coach Fox. It sounds like he really cares about his players, and from everything I've seen and heard from others, it seems like the truth.
Is Foster going to be a guy the Panthers turn to next year, or will free-agent acquisition Stephen Davis be the man in the backfield?
Delhomme: It's too early for me to tell. I know DeShaun's coming off of a major surgery and Stephen is a proven Pro Bowl running back. As a quarterback, I'm not going to discriminate, I'll hand off to both of them as much as they want (laughs).
Do you know what Delhomme translates to in French?
Delhomme: "The man."
Do you speak French?
Delhomme: Very little. I can understand a little bit of it, the Cajun-French. It was lost with my generation, you could say. Way back when, my grandparents spoke English and French and my Dad can speak it, but it's been lost. They didn't teach it to our generation and I think it was a shame.
What's your take on the criticism of the French by some Americans as it pertains to Operation Iraqi Freedom?
Delhomme: Oh, I don't know how to answer that. I've got to stay away from those kind of answers (laughs). But I respect what we're doing in the United States. Living in Europe, playing in NFL Europe, there's no doubt we live in the greatest place in the world, by far. I'm proud to be an American and I support our troops. Here I am, I have to move to a new city and sometimes I think about the things I have to do, and then these guys are fighting for their lives out there to protect us. It kind of puts things in perspective.
The nickname for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, your alma mater, is "Ragin' Cajuns." Have you ever met a raging Cajun?
Delhomme: Yep. There are about 400,000 of them down in Lafayette. We're all Cajuns and I don't know where the nickname really came from, but it suits us perfectly. We like to have a good time and we have a love of life and really enjoy life.
Can you recommend a Cajun dish?
Delhomme: Anything with crawfish. My favorite would be crawfish etouffee. It's crawfish tails made in a gravy or sauce and served over rice. (Photo courtesy of cajungrocer.com)
Finish this sentence: Before I get old, the one thing I want to do is ____ .
Delhomme: Man, there are so many things I want to do. But before I get old, I want to live a healthy life with my wife and watch my one daughter and hopefully one or two more kids grow up and be respectful and classy human beings. That's my goal in life, and that would make my life complete.
Name the worst movie you paid to see.
Delhomme: Oh my gosh, it might have been Total Recall. That was a long time ago, and I hated that one. Either that or The Mummy.
How often are you compared with Bobby Boucher, Adam Sandler's character in The Waterboy?
Delhomme: A little bit in New Orleans. When guys first get there, they hear my Cajun accent. And early on in New Orleans, my jersey number was 9, and I believe that was his number in the movie. We laughed about that.
The baseball season just opened. Who do you like to win the World Series in 2003?
Delhomme: Oh wow. I guess I always pull for the Braves. Why? I don't have any idea. I guess they were the only team when I was growing up that would play on TBS, and I always kind of followed the Braves.
What is your opinion on fantasy football?
Delhomme: I know people absolutely love it. I have so many friends back home who love it. I think it's good and fun. I really believe we have the best sport of all the professional sports and I think it's great that people get involved with it.
Would you ever play fantasy football?
Delhomme: Probably after I'm finished playing, I could see myself playing it. If you're doing it just for fun and you get in a group with a bunch of guys, it's cool. I love football, I follow it. When I'm finished playing, I'll still follow it.
How often have you heard about Kevin Dyson's "1-yard-away catch in the Super Bowl" since he signed with the Panthers?
Delhomme: Actually, I just met him. You know what's funny? We didn't talk about that or football in general. We talked about where he lived and where his apartment was, stuff like that. We just got to know each other and I'm sure I'll hear about it pretty soon.
He's not the only new guy on the team with Super Bowl experience.
Delhomme: Yep, we have Ricky Proehl also -- he actually beat Dyson in that game. Our front office is doing the right things and getting the right people together.
Is Proehl going to make sure Dyson doesn't forget about Super Bowl XXXIV?
Delhomme: I'm sure somewhere down the line. That's how guys are, that's how we go about our day, always taking shots at one another.
If winning a Super Bowl ring meant giving back a year's salary, would you do it?
Delhomme: There's no doubt. It's so hard to win, and some people don't understand that. You have 16 weeks during the season and there are no "gimmes." You have to be at your very best every single Sunday. You work from late March until early September to play only 16 times, whereas in baseball, you play 162 games and in basketball and hockey, 80 games or so. It's all about the ring.
Is it fair to lose a game in overtime if the offense can't get on the field?
Delhomme: I think it is because, hey, you should have won it in regulation. You had 60 minutes to get the job done and you should have gotten it done if you're going to look at it like that. That's my take on it. I haven't had any major thoughts either way if they change it or not. That's the luck of the game -- it's sudden death starting with a coin toss.
What is your status on the Panthers' depth chart right now?
Delhomme: I really don't know. Rodney Peete is the incumbent starter and really played well last year. I was impressed with how he came in and did a great job for them. Right now, I'm just trying to learn the plays and get guys' names right. Once we get on the field in minicamps and start coaching sessions, then I'll worry about that. I can't worry about that right now, I just have to let my play speak for itself.
How aware were you of Peete re-signing the same day as you signed?
Delhomme: I was very well aware. The Panthers were up front with me about that.
So are you expecting John Fox to ask you to spill your guts the week before the Saints game?
Delhomme: I'm not expecting him -- I'll tell him exactly what I know. I can tell him where there could be some weaknesses and what they do well. Offensively, they're pretty darn good. Defensively, they had some problems last year and they're addressing some of those needs right now. I won't have that much of an answer for new defensive guys the Saints brought in, but they're in the same division as us and we need to beat them.
Lastly, your goals for 2003?
Delhomme: My goal is to be the starter of the Carolina Panthers and be a productive quarterback and try to lead my team to wins. It's not about stats -- that's for people to look at and "ooh" and "aah" over. It's about wins and losses.
[Edited on 4/3/2003 by pakowitz]
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