If I were to tell you that a UL Lafayette quarterback played in the Super Bowl as a starter against Tom Brady, and almost won, would you believe me? Now the more die hard Ragin’ Cajun fans might know who I am talking about, but I would also bet that there is still a large number of you who could never believe that such a thing is possible.
Well it is possible, and not only did this quarterback almost beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, he also led UL Lafayette to its first ever win over a ranked opponent. Of course when this happened it was when we were the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
I am talking about Jake Delhomme, a true Cajun and son of Louisiana. He led USL into a national spotlight and later led the Carolina Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. On the way he set records that wouldn’t be broken until the mid 2010s and early 2020s.
For now I will only focus on his time at USL. His time in the NFL will be covered some other time because it is quite the journey for Delhomme.
Delhomme was born in Breaux Bridge, a mere 20 minutes from the USL Campus. He attended Teurlings Catholic in Lafayette where he played both quarterback and defensive back for the team. During his time in high school he even earned all-state honors, as a defensive back.
Delhomme, despite a great performance his senior year of high school where he had 3,351 yards and 32 touchdowns in the air with another 265 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, was overlooked.
He was overshadowed by two other Louisiana quarterbacks. One was Evangel Christian’s Josh Booty and the other? Well that would be Isidore Newman’s Peyton Manning, you might have heard of him.
One could see why he might not have gotten as many looks as he should have, but that is not to say there was not any interest. The University of Tulane did show interest but their coach said that he was not the only recruit for the position of quarterback.
Knowing he would not get play time at Tulane he instead chose to go to the alma mater of his mother, the University of Southwestern Louisiana. There he would be named a starter, the only true freshman starter for a Division I school that year.
In his freshman year he would help lead USL to an 8–3 record and the Big West Conference crown. Delhomme threw for 1,842 yards and 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Some of his notable victories came over Southern Mississippi, Tulane and Louisiana Tech.
Over his next two seasons Delhomme would lead the Cajuns to back to back 6–5 seasons one of which ended in another Big West co-title. During that two year frame Delhomme would pass for 4,473 yards, 30 touchdowns to 28 interceptions. It was his senior year though that threw him into the national spotlight.
Delhomme and the Cajuns had a rough start to the 1996 season as they had to travel to the University of Florida’s own Swamp after they had just won the national championship the year before.
I am sure you can probably guess how the game went. Florida continued their form from the season prior and absolutely shredded the Cajuns defense and stifled the offense in a 55–21 victory. That though did not hamper the spirits of the team it seems.
I guess the ‘90s were a strange time as the home opener for USL was against number 25 Texas A&M, who was at the time a Southwest Conference team. The Aggies themselves were coming into the game after a tough season opening loss to BYU 37–41.
On the night of September 14, 1996 Jake Delhomme and the Ragin’ Cajuns took the field in front of the 2nd largest crowd in Cajun Field history, 38,783 people packed into a stadium whose capacity at the time was just over 31,000. Crazy to think about when compared to the current turnouts for UL Lafayette.
Delhomme did not start the game off great, throwing an interception on the very first play of the game. That did not matter though because Texas A&M did not come into the game ready. Throughout the course of the game the Aggies would turn the ball over eight times, four of them being interceptions.
The Cajuns would enter the first half up 21–13, but that would not last long as by the fourth quarter Aggies would find themselves up 22–21. That lead would not last though.
Defensive back Britt Jackson would intercept a sailed ball by Aggies quarterback Branndon Stewart and housed it for a touchdown. The final nails would be hammered in by Delhomme as he found receiver Brandon Stokley for a two point conversion.
With 37 seconds left on the clock the Aggies would find themselves on the Cajun 30 yard line and a chance to win the game.
Stewart was pressured and forced a throw that ended in another Cajun interception.
Delhomme would take a knee to end the game, where after he would be seen running down the field, helmet in hand cheering as the tens of thousands of fans began to rush the field. As the goal posts game down in the Swamp I am sure the players and fans both knew they had been part of an amazing part of Louisiana history.
Delhomme would finish his senior season going 5–6. He threw for 2,901 yards, 20 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and a passer rating of 126.4.
Delhomme would finish his career as USL with 9,216 passing yards which was, and still is, the record for UL. It was also the 22nd most passing yards in the NCAA at the time, though it has fallen greatly since then.
He also finished with the record for passing touchdowns for UL with 64, though that record would eventually be broken by Levi Lewis in 2021.
Delhomme would start the next chapter of his story signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent.