Delhomme, Panthers persist through tragedy
Delhomme, Panthers persist through tragedy
By Alan Hancock
(June 2, 2005) -- For Jake Delhomme, this offseason was pretty much like any other. He spent time in his home state of Louisiana tending to his horses. He relaxed with his family and played with his 2-year-old son. He worked out and stayed fit to get ready for training camp.
But in some ways, this offseason was unlike any other for the Carolina Panthers quarterback.
Tragedy hit the Panthers hard in April when assistant coach Sam Mills passed away after battling cancer for nearly two years. Then, just three weeks later, the team learned that linebacker Mark Fields, who missed the 2003 season with Hodgkin's disease, would sit out the '05 campaign as the cancer returned. Delhomme even experienced his own family heartbreak with the death of two cousins in February.
Dealing with such adversity has been a challenge for the Panthers, who drew inspiration from Mills and Fields during their run to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"Everything is really fresh and new," said Delhomme while in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., practicing for the EA SPORTS NFL Quarterback Challenge. "The deal with Sam, in a way it's hard to talk about because you don't understand why things happen to people like Sam. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ With Mark, we just hope for the best. We just hope everything works out for the best and that he can get back to our Panthers family for good."
With the death of Mills, the Panthers lost one of the most popular figures in their organization. Mills joined the team in its inaugural season in 1995 and played his final three seasons in Carolina before joining the coaching staff. He is the only player in the team's Hall of Honor and there is a statue of him outside Bank of America Stadium.
"You always talk good about someone when they are gone, but people talked great about him when he was here," Delhomme said of Mills. "I think the biggest tribute to that man is the statue we have of him outside our stadium. This guy was 45 years old and he had a statue. You don't see that."
Fields was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease during training camp in 2003, just two weeks before Mills' intestinal cancer was discovered. After fighting cancer together with Mills, his position coach, while the Panthers won the NFC title, Fields returned to the team last season with his Hodgkin's in remission. He went on to make the Pro Bowl and appeared to have the disease conquered.
But concerns began to grow when Fields delayed signing a new three-year contract with the Panthers until passing a checkup. He was also absent from the team's offseason program and made the announcement of his newest setback through his agent.
"Mark hasn't been around this offseason at all," Delhomme said. "We weren't sure whether something was up or not. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ Mark won't want to come around much for people to feel sorry for him. He was kind of like Sam, 'Do not feel sorry for me.' "
The Panthers tried to carry that approach into minicamp when they returned to the practice field with optimism percolating through the team. Carolina experienced a topsy-turvy season in 2004, starting the year 1-7 as injuries decimated the team, then winning six of seven to get into the playoff picture before eventually finishing 7-9 and short of the postseason.
But the return of some of the players that missed time last year has the Panthers thinking they have as good a chance as anyone.
"Everybody is undefeated right now, so we're all optimistic and we all expect to be Super Bowl champs at the end of the year," Delhomme said.
Delhomme, who set career highs in nearly every passing category last year, including yards (3,886) and touchdowns (29), will have one of his favorite targets back as receiver Steve Smith returns from a broken leg that kept him out of the final 15 games last season.
The Panthers will need Smith to fill the hole left by the departure of Muhsin Muhammad, who led the NFL with 1,405 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns but was released by Carolina in February after the two sides were unable to agree to a contract extension. Smith took part in the Panthers minicamp and aims to return to the form that made him Carolina's leading receiver in 2003 with 1,110 yards on 88 catches.
"Our first practice, I made it a point to get him the football and he did what he did before he was hurt," Delhomme said. "I was extremely happy to see that."
Not as certain for a return is running back Stephen Davis, who missed most of last season with knee problems and underwent surgery in November. He probably won't be able to take the field until August, but DeShaun Foster, who also missed most of 2004 with a broken collarbone, is back and the team selected bruiser Eric Shelton in April's draft.
"If we can stay healthy, we think we have a nice stable of running backs," Delhomme said. "If we can get Stephen Davis back, that certainly would be a big coup for us."
Questions still remain, such as who will start opposite Smith at receiver and who will replace Fields in his linebacker spot, but overcoming adversity has proven to be a specialty for the Panthers, as evidenced by their triumphs when Mills and Fields were first stricken with cancer. And even if the Panthers can't bring back the success of their 2003 Super Bowl season, you can trust that Delhomme will press on. Handling some of life's larger hardships has left him with proper perspective.
"You have to enjoy every moment," he said. "You just don't know, so you have to enjoy every day. Everything goes so fast in this life and people worry about stuff, I try to just live a slow-paced life and just enjoy it because you just never know."
RE: Delhomme, Panthers persist through tragedy
So how many times is this now that Delhomme has been on the NFL.com homepage? 4? Just another category in which he leads AB. LOL.
What a mistake it was for the Saints to let him leave rather than give him a shot to start.
Amen brother. Good guy, class organization. Our loss.
Kinda hard NOT to like him isn't it?
'tis Danno. 'tis hard.
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