Brian Allee-Walsh

The Saints had a shot to build something with Jake Delhomme, but blew the chance

Here we are more than 15 years later, and I can still hear the chants from frustrated New Orleans Saints fans inside the Louisiana Superdome.

Needing a win against the Carolina Panthers to keep their playoff chances alive on the final Sunday of the 2002 regular season, the Black and Gold struggled mightily under quarterback Aaron Brooks who played with a bum throwing shoulder.

With each passing minute and failed offensive possession, the cries for change grew louder.

“We want Jake! ... We want Jake! ... We want Jake!’‘

Their pleas went unanswered.

In the end, Coach Jim Haslett stayed with Brooks and kept backup Jake Delhomme on the sideline with the Saints eventually losing the game (10-6) and blowing an opportunity to make the playoffs.

A few months later, Delhomme signed a free-agent contract with the Panthers and guided the young franchise into Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots in his very first season.

The rest is history.

At some point this season, Delhomme will be inducted into the Panthers prestigious Hall of Honor, largely because of seven stellar seasons in the Queen City (2003-’09) but also because of a long-standing love affair with an organization and its fan base.

To Delhomme, the pride of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and a Cajun through and through, the city of Charlotte became a second home to his young family.

I’m not saying that Delhomme was the long-term answer in New Orleans. In fact, he would have been foolish not to leave New Orleans and pursue a starting opportunity in Carolina or Dallas. But he certainly should have replaced Brooks in the ‘02 regular-season finale with a playoff bid hanging in the balance.

That said, I truly believe Haslett’s reluctance to make a quarterback change during the ‘02 season proved to be the beginning of the end for him — and Brooks — in New Orleans. The Hurricane Katrina season of 2005 sealed the deal.

Delhomme, now 44, is spending his post-NFL career following in the footsteps of his father, breeding, buying and selling race horses.

In a sense, he, too, was a longshot to make it in the NFL. In high school, he made the Louisiana All-State team; not as a quarterback but as a defensive back. Despite setting numerous records at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, he eventually signed with the Saints in 1997 as an undrafted free agent. After several stints on the Saints practice squad and competing in NFL Europe, Delhomme earned a roster spot in New Orleans behind Jeff Blake and Brooks.

And now, Delhomme is on the verge of cashing yet another winning ticket.

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