Spotlight on Former Athlete: Jake Delhomme Football 1993-96
Delhomme born to lead
By Bruce Brown
Written for Athletic Network
Twenty years ago, Jake Delhomme was preparing for his freshman year as a quarterback for Louisiana’s (then USL) Ragin’ Cajuns.
It figured to be a learning year, spent as a redshirt under coach Nelson Stokley. But fate intervened, as Delhomme was thrust into action midway through the season opener against Utah State.
He started the first of 43 straight games the following week, helped guide the Cajuns to an 8-3 record and eventually became the school’s all-time passing leader with 9,216 yards and 64 touchdown passes.
He never lost to an in-state rival, was 25-18 at the helm and engineered a 92-yard touchdown drive in the historic 29-22 upset of Texas A&M as a senior in 1996.
Ten years ago, as UL was preparing for its season opener at South Carolina, Delhomme turned in a dazzling performance in exhibition action against Pittsburgh to earn the role as starter for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
Delhomme, who had left the New Orleans Saints in hopes of finding a team of his own, sparked the Panthers to the Super Bowl in that 2003 campaign. He then threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots to cap a magical ride in a near-miss classic.
Both times when Delhomme was called upon to lead his team, he showed what being a born leader is all about – which surprised no one who knew him well.
“Growing up, we played sports all the time,” said Delhomme, who always wanted to be wherever older brother Jeff (5 years older) was and was rarely granted any slack in that pursuit.
“I was always the tag-along, always the aggravating little brother,” he said. “I wanted to be in the mix. I always wanted to be the man.”
Delhomme was always the quarterback, too, from third grade onward, although at Teurlings Catholic he also played safety and kicker. In fact, he was All-State at safety in Class 1A in 1992 when Evangel’s Josh Booty rode a wave of impressive statistics to the quarterback spot.
Teurlings lost in the 1992 playoffs to Ascension Catholic, a team with 27 seniors to TCHS’s total roster of 25 – “They crushed us,” Delhomme said – but his 6,703 career yards and 65 prep touchdown passes attracted a UL program at a crossroads after a two-win season.
“I never anticipated how my college career would turn out,” Delhomme said. “I looked at it as an opportunity to play football and to get my education paid for. I enjoyed the moment, and I relished being the quarterback.
“You grow up faster as a player, and as the quarterback. I always wanted the team to believe in me going into Saturday’s game.”
Delhomme found eager targets in 1993 in Marcus Carter, Buck Moncla, Myron Robinson and Ryan McGrath, and settled in behind veteran center Robby Waguespack.
Junior safety Orlando Thomas, himself a future star with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, led a defense that included Rocky Guidry, Britt Jackson, Brian Jackson and Jeff Mitchell.
“It all meshed,” Delhomme said. “The team had an attitude and we all competed. We were a good team. It would have been fun to go to a bowl game.
“One regret I have in life is that we never got to practice (for a bowl) over the Christmas break. It’s like January in the NFL in the playoffs. We would have been over the moon.”
Delhomme had to wait for his chance to lead an NFL team, laboring largely in obscurity with the Saints and even playing for Amsterdam and Frankfurt in NFL Europe.
His first NFL start produced a win over Dallas near the end of the 1999 season, but then after two games, back on the shelf.
Finally in 2003, with Jake and wife Keri expecting first child Lauren, he signed with Carolina.
“I was looking for a chance to compete, and it came down to Carolina and Dallas,” he said. “I had a lot of respect for (Cowboys’ head coach) Bill Parcells, and I hit it off with (quarterbacks coach) Sean Payton, but economics was a factor. Carolina offered me $1 million more to sign.
“My agent said they were more ready to win now, and there’s a lot of respect around the NFL for Carolina, for (owner) Jerry Richardson, from the top down including (coach) John Fox. It was nice.
“It was so smooth. We were all on the same page. There were so many ‘ups’ too that season. It was the right glove.”
The only better finish would have been a Super Bowl victory.
“You see grown men with tears in their eyes before the game,” Delhomme said. “You come down the tunnel and all the cameras are flashing. It’s fantastic.
“After the game, they rope off the field (for the trophy presentation) and the media is all over. I wanted to be on the other side of that rope. I remember thinking about when – not if – we would get back and win it.”
Carolina never returned to the Super Bowl, but Delhomme carved out 7 productive seasons with the Panthers including 72 touchdown passes and
10,526 yards in his first three campaigns.
He left for Cleveland and an injury-plagued year in 2010, then served as a late-season pickup with the Houston Texans in 2011.
“I wanted to play well,” Delhomme said. “The game’s too important to just pick up a paycheck.”
Houston had clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs when hosting Tennessee in the finale. T.J. Yates and Delhomme figured to split time for starter Matt Schaub, but Yates was injured early and Delhomme came on to hit 18-of-28 for 211 yards and a score in a 23-22 defeat.
“We scored late, and went for two, but we were offsides and then the snap went over my head,” Delhomme said. “My last NFL pass was a touchdown to Bryant Johnson. My first (1999, vs. Dallas) had been a deflected interception, but my last was a touchdown.
“I have pretty good recall of the games I played, and at each level the results become more magnified. I would always play the game over and over in my mind.
“Towards the end, I was not enjoying the wins and I took the losses too hard. If I have a regret, I wish I would have enjoyed the wins more. I was always pretty critical of myself. That’s what drove me.”
Delhomme finished his NFL career with 20,975 yards, 126 touchdowns and respect as a professional who was always prepared to lead. He put just as much effort into a meaningless season finale in 2011 as he did into the game that meant everything – the Super Bowl – following the 2003 season.
Lauren Delhomme is 10 now, and loves to watch football with her father. Sister Lindsey is 6, and both are active in Biddy Basketball. Both will likely attend Teurlings, now a 4A school with a waiting list and a new stadium.
Delhomme, a 2006 inductee into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame, remains a low-key local favorite who has yet to officially announce his retirement from the NFL despite a year away from the game.
He is back in the family business of training race horses with Jeff and their father Jerry, and still thrives on a challenge.
“The biggest problem with a lot of guys (professional athletes) is that they don’t know what to do with themselves when they retire,” he said. “There is a large number of divorce and bankruptcy. There’s nothing to fill that competitive void.
“In horse racing, if you’re successful 17-20 percent of the time, that’s damn good. I love the competition.”
He also loves the back-to-back New Orleans Bowl victories by UL’s current Ragin’ Cajuns under coach Mark Hudspeth.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Delhomme said. “I think Coach Hud is getting comfortable in Lafayette now. He’s more at ease. People here are so friendly, and they don’t want anything from you in return.
“There’s excitement in the air from the next generation coming up. You see kids wearing UL jerseys now.”
It seems like just yesterday, there were hundreds of USL Delhomme jerseys around South Louisiana.
Teurlings’ Class of 1993 will hold its 20-year reunion this fall. Few will have a more eventful set of memories to re-live as Jake Delhomme.
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Click here for the 1996 Football Photo Gallery which includes the Cajun defeat of nationally ranked Texas A&M.
Click here for Jake’s Athletic Network Profile – a work in progress as all of the stories written about him have not been moved to his profile.
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Our rich athletic traditions were entrusted to the vision, hope, loyalty, and dedication of those former athletes and we will forever owe them a debt of sincere gratitude. May God bless each of them and their families.
Anyone with information, materials, pictures, memorabilia, etc., of the university’s former athletic program participants is requested to contact Ed Dugas at email@example.com Thank you.
The Photo Gallery Link located on the left side of the home page at www.athleticnetwork.net contains over 12,000 pictures of former and current athletes and support groups. Just click on photo gallery and when the menu appears, click on the sport or support group you wish to view. The years of pictures posted for that team or group will appear and you may click on the year you wish to view. One click on a thumbnail picture or narrative and it is enlarged; a click on the enlarged photo and it reverts back to the thumbnail.
The Athletic Network seeks to post pictures of each team and support group for each year they represented the university.
The stories of the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 honorees featured in the Spotlight on Former Athletes are still included in the News Page and may be viewed by clicking on "more news" at the bottom right of the News Box, scrolling down, clicking on the title of the story. Those spotlight features which are no longer shown in the News Page, have been moved to the Lagniappe Link of the "History of UL Athletics" located on the left side of the home page.
The Spotlight on Former Athletes announcement has also been placed in the profile of each honoree, excluding the pictures.
Ed Dugas served as feature writer.
January – Tim Thompson Men’s Basketball 1957-61.
February – Gene Bacque Baseball 1956 & 57.
March – Dr. Louis Bowers – Tennis 1956-58, Track 1955, Coaches 1964-66.
April – Dr. Carter Lomax, Jr. Tennis 1974-76.
May – Johnny Morris, Jr. Football 1927-29,Men’s Basketball 1927-30,Track & Field 1928-30, Golf 1927-28, Coaches 1947-49 .
June – S.L.I.I. Athletic Pioneers I
July – S.L.I.I. Athletic Pioneers II
August – 1912 – A Special Year – First L’Acadien
September – Glenn Davis Lafleur Football 1966-69
October – Bill Bass – Boxing 1938 & 39, Football 1938-40, Coach 1971-75 & 1983
November – Tom Nolan – Cross Country & Track & Field 1971-76, Coaches 1978-83
December – Military Personnel – Military Page posted
Ed Dugas served as the initial feature writer and continued until Bruce Brown began writing in 2010.
Peace, Ed Dugas
Ed Dugas, Research Coordinator