Jim Haslett and Jake Delhomme are in different places now.
Haslett is no longer the New Orleans Saints' coach – he's got that job with the St. Louis Rams. Delhomme isn't the Saints' backup quarterback as he was from 1998-2002 – he's the starter for the Carolina Panthers.
But a difficult decision made by Haslett seven years ago might have changed the course of Carolina Panthers history.
As the Saints – the Panthers' opponent Sunday in Bank of America Stadium – closed in on a playoff berth in 2002, starting quarterback Aaron Brooks hurt his shoulder. Haslett, however, decided to keep Brooks in the lineup and Delhomme on the bench.
A debate raged in New Orleans over the season's final three games: Should local-favorite Delhomme replace Brooks, whose effectiveness was obviously diminished by his sore shoulder?
Delhomme knew Brooks was struggling. When Brooks came off the field in those final three games, he'd tell Delhomme to stay warm, just in case. But with Brooks completing just 40percent of his passes, the Saints went 0-3 down the stretch and missed the postseason.
Delhomme, who had played in six games in his five years with the Saints, became a free agent after the season. He signed with the Panthers and has since established himself as one of the league's top quarterbacks, helping Carolina to the 2003 Super Bowl and a spot in the NFC Championship Game two years later.
Haslett, who replaced Scott Linehan in St. Louis last week, recently admitted he should have gone with Delhomme in those final three games in '02.
“We had a chance to go to the playoffs, and I got hard-headed 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.”
Here's where what-might-have-been comes into play.
Had Haslett made the move and Delhomme played well, he might have felt like he had a shot at Brooks' job.
Delhomme had plenty of reasons for wanting stay with the Saints: He's a native of nearby Breaux Bridge, La., and his wife Keri was pregnant with their first child.
“In the back of your mind, it would have been, ‘Gosh, you're back home,'” he said. “I know it was in the back of my mind, my wife was having a child in two weeks. You're comfortable, it's home, – ‘Hey I might get a chance to play next year.' Who's to say what's going to go on? Are they going to tell you it's an open competition? That's something, who knows what would have happened?”
Delhomme was the Panthers' No.2 quarterback behind Rodney Peete at the beginning of the '03 season. But after replacing Peete in the opener and leading a comeback against Jacksonville, Delhomme has since been entrenched as Carolina's starter.
Brooks left the Saints after the 2005 season and is now a land developer in his hometown of Newport News, Va.
Delhomme, in the meantime, doesn't sit around and wonder about what might have been in New Orleans.
“I'm glad he didn't,” Delhomme said of Haslett's decision. “Maybe I would have played terrible, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to come here.
“I'm glad I didn't play. It's worked out and I'm more than happy to be here.”
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