There have been many Carolina Panthers who have had an impact on my 'fanhood' and with whom I have been enamored during their time with the team. There have been those whom I have shaken my head at only to have them prove me wrong. There have been those whom I blindly pulled for and defended, knowing deep down in my football brain that they were not who I hoped the were.
Then there are those whom I blindly defended and saw resurrect themselves, turning me into a prophet of sorts, even if only in my own eyes. There have been those that I have cursed upon their signing, only to welcome them into my short list of favorites once they suit up.
There's one player who has done all of the above. Jake Delhomme.
Arguably the most maligned player in Panthers history, the Jake Delhomme I know single-handedly brought this franchise back from the dead with a single touchdown pass on September 7, 2003.
It was opening day at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers were playing the Jacksonville Jaguars, their expansion mates from the 1995 season.
With the tragedy of 9/11 still fresh in the hearts and minds of all Americans, starting quarterback Rodney Peete's wife, Holly Robinson Peete, sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem to kick things off. Her husband's play was not as moving. Peete finished the first half completing just four of ten passes for 19 yards, and the Panthers found themselves down 14-0.
On the Panthers' first possession of the second half, it was an energetic Delhomme who sprinted into the huddle, pumping his fists to rile up his teammates. Delhomme had been signed from the New Orleans Saints in the offseason and figured to continue his role as a lifelong backup in Carolina. John Fox decided to give him a chance to prove himself, seeing as how he couldn't do any worse than Peete had in the opening half.
That move more than payed off, as Delhomme threw for 122 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in the second half. Not noticeably outstanding numbers, but numbers that did the job. His final pass found Ricky Proehl in the end zone with 16 seconds left on the clock just before the Jaguars' defense reached him.
A Mike Minter field goal block on the Jags' last ditch effort to save the game sealed the deal, and the stadium erupted in appreciation for their team's efforts. That finish would be the birth of the 'Cardiac Cats', the team Delhomme led to Super Bowl XXXVIII, as well as the rebirth of Delhomme's career.
Since then, Jake has taken the Panthers to the playoffs twice more, and in 2005, back to the NFC Championship game. His 2003 season still holds a place in the hearts of true Panthers fans everywhere, and is responsible for bringing the passion that can be felt on Sundays inside Bank of America Stadium back to the Carolinas.
If I could ever have the chance to sit down with Jake and fulfill my duty as a reporter to ask the tough questions and get the meaty answers, my list of questions would probably look a little something like this:
- Was there ever a point when you were playing in NFL Europe that you felt like giving up the game?
- In what way did Kurt Warner most impact the way you play the quarterback position?
- What were your initial reactions when you found out you would be leaving New Orleans, close to home, for Charlotte?
- What was the most difficult part of adjusting to every-day life in Charlotte?
- Did you have any knowledge that coach Fox would pull the trigger on Rodney Peete that early in the 2003 season?
- Describe the feelings you had when you learned you would be the starter in Week 2 of the 2003 season in Tampa Bay (defending Super Bowl champs).
- Did you have any doubt in your abilities as a starter after Week 2 of 2003? (9/23 96 yards 0TD 2INT)
- When did you first feel like the 2003 Panthers team had a real chance to do some damage in the playoffs?
- Describe the "X-Clown" play against the Rams in the 2003 playoffs from your point of view.
- What was the first thing that went through your mind when time ran out and you were NFC Champions heading to the Super Bowl?
- What was the biggest distraction in the off week before the Super Bowl?
- What kind of motivation did you take from the Super Bowl loss? Was it more of a downer or a building block?
- When the 2004 team missed the playoffs, did you have any doubts or thoughts of the team being a Cinderella story and nothing more?
- How much did getting revenge on the Bears play into the preparation for the 2005 divisional playoff game in Chicago?
- What was your first thought after your touchdown pass to Smitty on the second play from scrimmage in the Chicago playoff game?
- Was there any one factor, outside of injuries, that played into the loss to Seattle in the 2005 NFC Championship game more than any of the others?
- When did you first start to hear criticism about your play and your assumed inconsistency as quarterback of the Panthers?
- How difficult was it to watch from the sidelines with the thumb injury, the first major one as a Panther, in 2006 during the stretch run?
- When did you first realize something was wrong with your elbow in 2007 (or before)?
- Why do you think your numbers were so good in 2007 in the first two games of the season just before the end of your season in Atlanta?
- What was the most difficult part in watching almost the entire 2007 season from the sidelines?
- What was the most important thing you learned from your time with Vinny Testaverde?
- Was there ever a point during your rehab after Tommy John surgery that you thought about retiring?
- How long did it take you to regain confidence in your arm and not worry about throwing it out after your rehab?
- When did you take your first significant hit after the surgery?
- What was the best part about watching DeAngelo Williams erase the doubts about him and break through in 2008 from your point of view as the quarterback?
- If you could issue a press release speaking your mind to those who have been calling for your job, how would it read?
- What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from coach Fox?
- What will you name the next race horse you buy?
- How many more years do you see yourself as a starting quarterback in the NFL, whether it be with the Panthers or not?
Call me a homer if you like. But before you do, ask yourself where this team would be if Jake Delhomme had never sported a Panthers jersey.