CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If Jim Haslett hadn't been so "hardheaded," Jake Delhomme may never have left his home state.
Haslett's stubbornness in sticking with injured quarterback Aaron Brooks six years ago led to Delhomme's departure from New Orleans. While Haslett last week acknowledged his mistake and vowed not to repeat it in his new job with the St. Louis Rams, the outcome suits Delhomme just fine.
On Sunday, Delhomme will lead the 6-2 Panthers against his former team when Carolina hosts the Saints.
"Maybe I would have played terrible and I wouldn't have had an opportunity to play here," Delhomme said this week. "I'm glad I didn't play. Let's be honest, I think it's worked out here and I'm more than happy to be here."
That's not what the Breaux Bridge, La. native was thinking when he signed with the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997. He spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad before holding the No. 3 QB spot for most of the next three years.
In 2002, Delhomme backed up Brooks, who was injured late in the season. Instead of switching to the fan favorite Delhomme, Haslett stuck with a hobbled Brooks, and the Saints lost their last three games -- scoring 20 points in the last two weeks -- to miss the playoffs.
"We had a chance to go to the playoffs, and I got hardheaded because Aaron Brooks got hurt," Haslett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. "I should've put the backup in, and didn't. Everybody wanted the backup in, and I didn't. In hindsight, I probably should have because the backup turned out to be a pretty darn good quarterback, Jake Delhomme."
At the time, nobody knew much about Delhomme, who had appeared in six games in six seasons. The Saints decided not to bring him back in the spring of 2003.
Delhomme then signed a free-agent deal with Carolina, took over as the starter at halftime in Week 1, and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
Delhomme guided the Panthers to the NFC championship game and was picked for the Pro Bowl two years later -- the same year Haslett was fired after the Saints went 3-13.
Haslett got a second chance as a head coach just over two weeks ago when he took over the Rams. And while Delhomme stubbornly clings to that Cajun accent, Charlotte has become his second home.
It doesn't mean leaving New Orleans was easy.
Delhomme's wife was pregnant with the couple's first child late in the 2002 season. Growing up in Louisiana, going to college in the state and playing professionally there, he faced the unknown.
"You're comfortable. This is home. Hey, I might get a chance to play next year," Delhomme said. "I loved playing in New Orleans, loved playing for the organization. ... But I'm so happy I came here to experience this."
Delhomme has thrown five touchdown passes and five interceptions in 2008 after missing the final 13 games last season with a shredded ligament in his right elbow. His absence last year and the team's implosion without him showed the value of his leadership and fire.
Delhomme has become the face of the Panthers. He appears in numerous television commercials. Streams of fans come to games in No. 17 jerseys and the Louisiana boy has made it big in Carolina.
"I'm happy for him. I'm happy because he got an opportunity to finally be a starter of a team," said Saints running back Deuce McAllister, one of the few players left from Delhomme's days in New Orleans. "You saw how hard he worked when he was here. You saw some of the ups and downs he went through as far as being released and signed back, etc., from this team, so you're happy when he gets an opportunity like that."