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'This is fun'

Success in starting debut pleases Delhomme

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Posted: Saturday December 25, 1999 06:24 PM

  Jake Delhomme Cajun celebration: Jake Delhomme completed 16-of-27 for 278 yards in his first NFL start. AP

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Maybe reality will come crashing down on Jake Delhomme when he turns 25. For now, however, the New Orleans Saints' newest quarterback is certainly having fun living the dream.

Delhomme went from unemployed to NFL star in five weeks, capping the run by outdueling Troy Aikman and knocking the Dallas Cowboys off in the first NFL game he ever played in.

What a week for a kid from Breaux Bridge, La.

"I was really just having fun," Delhomme said after the Saints 31-24 Christmas Eve victory. "I've gone from the lowest low to the highest high, being out of the league, being cut again, and then getting a chance."

Delhomme staged an old-fashioned Cajun fais do do for his teammates and the small but happy crowd that came to the game expecting the Saints (3-12) to drop another one in their dismal run through another losing season.

"We were joking in the huddle the whole game," Delhomme said. "That's what was fun about it. We were joking when we made plays. Everybody was like, 'O.K., it's a football game.'"

Just one game ago Delhomme was charting plays on the sideline, a month ago he was out of the league, cut by the Saints for the second time after training camp.

After setting the Louisiana passing record with 9,216 yards in four years at Southwestern Louisiana (now called Louisiana-Lafayette), Delhomme signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 1997. After a couple of stays on the practice squad, Delhomme played in the NFL Europe for two seasons, going neck-and-neck with Kurt Warner for the starting job with the Amsterdam Admirals in 1998.

"They didn't name Kurt the starter until three hours before kickoff," said Delhomme, who co-quarterbacked Frankfurt to the championship this spring and finished in the top of the league in passing.

But while Warner moved from the Admirals to the Arena League and on to stardom with St. Louis, the best Delhomme could do was get into a few preseason games and get some nibbles from other NFL teams for next season.

Six weeks ago, Cowboys scouts strongly recommended signing Delhomme to Coach Chan Gailey, but Gailey opted to stick with Mike Quinn, the Dallas third-stringer.

Against Dallas, Delhomme passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third and rallied his team twice -- an unusual situation for the Saints, who led in 10 of their 12 losses but couldn't hold on.

Delhomme completed 16-of-27 for 278 yards after shaking off an interception on the first NFL pass he threw, compared to Aikman's 23-of-39 for 246 yard day. Aikman was intercepted twice, Delhomme once.

It was the kind of debut that even impressed Dallas cornerback Deion Sanders, who was burned on Delhomme's 50-yard touchdown pass to Keith Poole. Sanders presented Delhomme with an autographed pair of his cleats after the game. The inscription read: "To Jake, God bless. Great win. Deion Sanders."

Saints coach Mike Ditka said cutting Delhomme and keeping Danny Wuerffel to back up Billy Joe Hobert and Billy Joe Tolliver doesn't make him look very good, but seeing Delhomme in action made up for the blunder.

"The only thing that surprised me with Jake was I thought he was pretty cool," Ditka said. "I never played quarterback, but I know I was a lot more excited than Jake was in my first professional game. He seemed pretty cool."

Delhomme spent four days cramming for his debut, crediting Tolliver for putting in extra hours coaching him. But he was more nervous on Tuesday, the first time he ever practiced with the first-string, than at game time.

By kickoff, Delhomme said he was ready to accept Tolliver's advice -- "Jake, this is what we do. We don't get nervous, this is our job."

The team picked up on his confidence, and picked up its second victory in a row over the Cowboys.

"This is fun," Delhomme said. "This is how it was in the World League. This is how it was in college when I was supposed to be 'The Man.'"

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