The Real Deal: Jake Delhomme

Jake Delhomme. Yes, you probably know the name by now. You know his hometown, his voice, his Bojangles commercial, and the number on his jersey. Most of you can even pronounce his name correctly (Duh-lome). He has been the topic of NFL discussion forums and analysts interviews since the 2002 season when fans of the New Orleans Saints would chant "We want Jake, We want Jake".

What you may not know is that Jake's long and winding road to the Superbowl last season didn't start in Carolina, and it wasn't John Fox or Marty Hurney that gave him the break he needed. It was a man named Bill Kuharich.

Born on Jan. 10, 1975 in Lafayette, La., Jake Christopher Delhomme attended Teurlings Catholic High School (his hometown school), where he was an all-state defensive back -- even though he finished his career with 7,423 yards in total offense and 81 touchdowns completing 421-of-835 passes for 6,703 yards and 65 touchdowns as a quarterback. As a senior, he completed 218-of-394 passes for 3,351 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 265 yards and eight touchdowns, leading his school to the state semifinals.

By comparison, that is almost more completions as a senior than Peyton Manning had attempts (168-265), and Delhomme's 3,351 passing yards as a senior eclipsed that of Manning's 2,703. Not only did Delhomme edge Manning in senior year statistics alone, but over the course of each player's high school career as well. Delhomme's 7,423 career offensive yards stand just above Manning's 7,207.

Did he get a major college scholarship?

While players like Manning were offered scholarships to Tennessee, Texas, and Michigan, there wasn't a Louisiana State University, Southern Cal or Florida in Delhomme's stack of offers. Delhomme attended the closest college to his home, Louisiana-Lafayette, where he proved to be an even better college Quarterback than he was a high school one. Jake was the only true freshman quarterback to start for a Division I-A school in 1993 and his completion percentage of 145-of-259 for 1,842 yards and 14 touchdowns with 12 interceptions gave him a 124.5 passer efficiency rating. A rating that ranked second among NCAA freshman quarterbacks. He also became the first true freshman in school history to pass for more than 1,000 yards, setting a single-season school mark for completions that he would later surpass.

As a senior, Jake completed 201-of-377 passes for a school-record 2,901 yards and 20 touchdowns with 17 interceptions in 1996.

Jake ended his college career as the all-time Louisiana College passing leader with 9,216 yards on 655-of-1,246 passing with 64 touchdowns and 57 interceptions. He led the Ragin' Cajuns to three consecutive winning seasons in his four years, became the first player to pass for more than 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons and started the last 43 games of his career, which was the longest streak among active quarterbacks in the nation. Jake was ranked 22nd in NCAA history for passing yards and 28th for total offense at the close of his collegiate career.

So which NFL team drafted him?

Jake sat at home on draft day with friends and family anxiously, yet patiently, waiting for a phone call that would never come. Not one team in the NFL thought he was even worth a seventh round pick. Jake was a hometown kid, who played for hometown schools, so it seems only natural that his break would come from the hometown NFL team. On June 10th 1997, Jake was signed by the New Orleans Saints as a rookie free agent where he spent the season on the Saints practice squad.

In 1998 Jake was allocated by New Orleans to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe and completed 15-of-47 attempts for 247 yards and no touchdowns with four interceptions as a reserve quarterback behind former Superbowl MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. After returning from Amsterdam, Jake served as the Saints inactive third quarterback for the first five games of the season before being waived on October 14th, and signed to the team's practice squad where he spent the remainder of the season. In preseason action, he completed 13-of-31 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions and rushed five times for 45 yards.

1999 was Jake's breakout year. Allocated to the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe by New Orleans, Jake led the Galaxy to the World Bowl Championship and ranked second in the League with a 96.8 quarterback rating. He completed 67.3 of his pass attempts on 136-of-202 passing for 1,410 yards and 12 touchdowns with five interceptions and added 21 rushes for 126 yards. Jake recorded one of the four 300-yard passing games registered in the League during the 1999 campaign, throwing for 316 yards on 30 completions against the Rhein Fire. In the World Bowl against the Barcelona Dragons, he completed nine-of-14 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown. After returning from NFLE, Jake played in two games with two starts, was the third quarterback for two contests and was inactive for two games. He completed 42-of-76 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns with five interceptions to earn a 62.4 quarterback rating and rushed 11 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. During the preseason, he completed 17-of-44 passes for 202 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 53.4 and rushed six times for 24 yards. After being waived by New Orleans prior to the start of the regular season, Jake was re-signed by the Saints. He was listed as the third quarterback at St. Louis (11/28) and at Atlanta (12/5) before being inactive versus St. Louis (12/12) and at Baltimore (12/19). He started and led New Orleans to a win versus Dallas (12/24) in his first NFL contest, completing 16-of-27 attempts for 278 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and scoring on a four-yard touchdown run. Jake started the regular season finale at Carolina (1/2) and attempted a team season-high 49 passes, completing 26 for 243 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions, in addition to leading the Saints with 78 yards rushing and one touchdown on eight carries.

The 2000 season started out better than the previous campaigns for Jake. During the preseason, he completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns for an 80.9 quarterback rating. He also gained 23 yards on two rushing attempts. However, despite leading all Saints quarterbacks in efficiency rating during the preseason, Jake was listed as New Orleans' inactive third quarterback for the first 11 games. Jake dressed but did not play in the last five regular season contests or in the Saints two playoff games.

In 2001, Jake stepped up his play another notch in an attempt to win a starting position. During the preseason, he completed 36-of-52 passes for a 69.2 completion percentage. His 437 yards, four touchdowns and one interception compiled a 112.4 quarterback rating, tops among all NFC quarterbacks in the preseason. He also ran twice for 11 yards. However once again, Jake was the Saints inactive third quarterback for all 16 games.

So he got the starting Job in 2002, right?

In 2002, Jake played in four games and did not appear in 12 contests as the Saints reserve quarterback behind Aaron Brooks. He completed eight-of-10 passes for 113 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions en route to a 113.8 quarterback rating and lost two yards on four rushing attempts. Jake served as the holder on extra points and field goals at Tampa Bay (9/8) and did not complete his only pass attempt on the last play of the play of the first half at Carolina (11/10). He replaced an injured Brooks on the final series in a win versus Tampa Bay (12/1). Entering the Buccaneers contest with the Saints clinging to a 23-20 lead and facing a third-and-eight with less than two minutes remaining, he completed his only pass attempt for 10 yards to gain a first down before taking a knee on the next two plays to end the game. Jake saw his most extensive action of the season at Baltimore (12/8) when he relieved Brooks in the third quarter. He proceeded to connect on seven-of-eight passes for 108 yards, including a then career-long 54-yard completion to Jake Reed, and directed the Saints on three scoring drives. He led all NFC quarterbacks for the second consecutive preseason with a 110.6 quarterback rating, completing 68.8 percent of his attempts on 33-of-48 passing for 370 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed for 20 yards and a touchdown on five carries.

Long before Delhomme was a household name, Bill Kuharich would talk about the natural-born leader he signed after the 1997 draft. He said the kid had something magical about him. Pat Kirwan once spoke with Kuharich after he had left the Saints organization and Kuharich told him, "If ever I get another chance to run an NFL franchise, I'm going to build it around Jake Delhomme." That was in 2000.

It wasn't Kuharich that had the opportunity to run a NFL franchise however.

It was John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, along with team General Manager, Marty Hurney who recognized the same leadership skills and talent of Delhomme that had once caught the eye of Kuharich. All Jake had ever asked for was a chance to start which is why he chose the Panthers one-week after he was granted unconditional free agency on Feb. 28, 2003. What Kuharich saw in 1997, and gave Delhomme the opportunity to develop, was brought to light when Jake came off the bench at halftime and threw three touchdown passes to lead the Panthers to a come back victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2003 season opener. On that day Jake won not only the game and the starting job for the Carolina Panthers, but he set in motion a season that would ride his leadership skills into the Superbowl and into the hearts of NFL fans everywhere.

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