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Friday, March 5, 2010

Carolina turns the page on Jake

It is officially the end of an era in Charlotte. Thursday, the Carolina Panthers released quarterback Jake Delhomme. Throughout seven seasons, Delhomme was a model citizen and gracious human being. Unfortunately, Delhomme became more known for his erratic play on the field and Bojangles commercials.

After beginning his NFL career with his hometown New Orleans Saints, Delhomme signed with the Panthers prior to 2003 season. Carolina fans were weary of this unproven quarterback with a Cajun twang; head coach John Fox thought otherwise.

During Carolina’s first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting quarterback Rodney Peete was awful. Even though it was only the first game of the season, Fox felt that a change was needed. Going into the second half, Delhomme was thrown into the fire. He led the Panthers back from a 17-0 deficit, throwing three touchdowns, including a touchdown with only 16 seconds left in regulation to win the game. From that point on, Delhomme was the guy.

The magical ride didn’t stop in Jacksonville. With significant contributions from wide receiver Steve Smith and stud rookie defensive end Julius Peppers, Delhomme led the Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance. Through a valiant all-around effort, Carolina’s quest to complete the ultimate Cinderella story ended in Houston. As time expired, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning field goal to win Super Bowl XXXVIII, 32-29.

The following three seasons were Delhomme’s best. He set career highs in several passing categories and franchise records as well. He would go on to earn a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster and help the Panthers reach the playoffs again. Then, 2007 happened.

In the second game of the year against the Atlanta Falcons, Delhomme would injure his throwing arm, ending his season. He would be forced to have “Tommy John surgery,” becoming one of the first professional quarterbacks to undergo such an operation.

Following the surgery, Delhomme was never the same. His accuracy and velocity was significantly stricken, which led to many costly turnovers. After two seasons of dreadful football, the organization and the city finally had enough, leading to his inevitable release.

Where do the Panthers turn now? Is young Matt Moore the answer? Do they take a gamble and trade for Michael Vick? Maybe they should draft college superstar Tim Tebow in the upcoming draft? I think Panther great Chris Weinke is available. There are a number of options for Carolina, but this time, it could make or break the organization for the foreseeable future.

I had the privilege of meeting Jake Delhomme last summer at the Panthers training camp in Wofford, SC. He was one of the most gracious, kind individuals I had ever met. Regardless if he had some bad games, Delhomme always did his very best. He'll sign on with another team and provide a serviceable veteran presence and continue to be a leader in the community.

Thank you Jake, for you have been the catalyst of many wonderful moments as a player, and your starring role in classic Bojangles commercials that will last a lifetime.

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