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But then Delhomme started making like Sammy Baugh. He threw the sweetest little rainbow to Smith for a touchdown just before the half. He made history with Muhsin Muhammad on an 85-yard streak that stands as the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. And he hit Ricky Proehl with a dart for another score.
You knew Delhomme was loose. He was singing along with the stadium songs during timeouts. He wound up with 323 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. And when the Panthers led 22-21 with less than seven minutes left, every MVP ballot had to have had Delhomme's name scrawled on it.
But with the game tied at 29 and 1:08 to play, Carolina made the worst Super Bowl gaffe since the NFL announced, "The site of Super Bowl XL is Detroit!" John Kasay pulled a Gerald Ford, shanking the kickoff out-of-bounds, giving New England the ball at its own 40 and leaving Brady a short drive away from setting up the winning field goal. And it wasn't even Brady's birthday.
Scratch out Delhomme's name on the MVP ballots, write in Brady's. Cue the confetti. Cue Delhomme, toothpicks in his eyelids, a Clockwork Blue.
What in the world were you thinking all that time, Jake?
"I was just standing there thinking how much I'd love to be one of those guys, to have that feeling. Because it looks like it might be one of the ultimate rushes you could have. Someday I'd like to have that rush. Someday I'd like to be on the other side of those stupid ropes."
The best athletes, the ones that wind up with all the rings, take losing about the way cats take baths, but never in my 16 Super Bowls have I seen a man so inconsolable after a loss.
Do you feel good about the great game you played? Delhomme was asked.
"No," he said, his eyes watery. "No way. I can't tell you how bad this feels. Worst feeling in the world."
But didn't you show the world you belonged?