Delhomme gets second chance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 1999

The Associated Press

The last time Jake Delhomme was this excited about a game was back when he led Southwestern Louisiana to an upset of Texas A&M. Fans were so excited that night they tore down the goal posts and danced on the field at the little Lafayette school.

If things go the way Delhomme hopes, New Orleans Saints fans will feel the same way Friday.

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Delhomme, who has only seen regular season NFL games from the sideline or the couch up to now, will be the Saints starting quarterback against the Dallas Cowboys on Friday.

”It’s a dream come true to play on national TV against the Cowboys,” Delhomme said. ”I don’t look at it as pressure, I look at it as a great opportunity. I’m just going to go out and have fun.”

Delhomme, who passed for 9,216 yards in four years at Southwestern, was an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Saints in 1997. They have cut him twice and put him on the practice squad twice since then.

The NFL Europe provided the bulk of Delhomme’s experience. He played there twice, including this spring when he split time as the starter for the Frankfurt Galaxy and finished near the top of the league in passing.

With two games left, a 2-12 record, and an offense that can’t find the end zone, coach Mike Ditka decided he had nothing to lose taking a chance on a strong-armed quarterback, even if he hasn’t taken a snap outside of practice or exhibition games in the league previously.

”I think he has a great arm, strength-wise,” Ditka said. ”Now whether the ball gets there accurately enough, that depends. I think he has the ability to avoid people and move around in the pocket and things like that. And I think he’s a tough kid, I really do.”

Delhomme immediately gave the Cowboys (7-7) trouble.

”You can’t really plan a lot, obviously, when you’ve not seen him on film very much,” Dallas coach Chan Gailey said. ”Really, the unknown is what you get concerned about when facing a guy like this.”

What Delhomme will be facing is a team that has its back against the wall. Win the final two games and go to the playoffs. Lose – as they did last year in a humiliating 22-3 upset to the Saints, or last week when the New York Jets killed their chance to take over first place in the NFC East – and the Cowboys can join the Saints watching the post season games on television.

And, as Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman pointed out, the game will be a lot faster than anything Delhomme has been in before and the talent level will be a lot higher.

”The main thing is for him to get as prepared as he can going into the ballgame just so he can try and let his physical talents take over and not be thinking so much,” Aikman said. ”It’s tough on any first-year player playing the whole season. It’s especially tough when you come in for the first ballgame. I watched Jake actually when I was over in Europe. I like him. He can play hard. I think he’ll be fine.”

Delhomme thinks so too.

After four weeks of carrying a clipboard on the sidelines since the Saints re-signed him, charting plays and running the scout team, Delhomme had three days of taking snaps in practice and hours in the film room to prepare.

”I know it will be the same for me as it has been for every game I’ve ever played in,” Delhomme said. ”I’ll be a little nervous, but I’ll also be ready.”