The Carolina Panthers’ first appearance in the Super Bowl might never have happened had it not been for Jake Delhomme, Ricky Proehl and a play called “Reno.”
The Panthers were struggling against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Bank of America Stadium during the first game of the 2003 season. Down 14-0 at halftime, then-Panthers coach John Fox decided to pull starting quarterback Rodney Peete.
In came Delhomme, a former backup with the New Orleans Saints and a native of Breaux Bridge, La., who sprinted onto the field and into the huddle.
The Panthers went on to win their first five games and played in the Super Bowl, where Delhomme and Proehl hooked up for a late, game-tying touchdown.
“He ran in there and called that first play with that Cajun accent, he had so much energy and he was talking too fast,” said Proehl, now the Panthers receivers coach, but who was then a veteran receiver who was also playing his first game for the Panthers. “We couldn’t understand a word he said. Slow it down, Jake, we said, repeat the play! It was comical.”
Delhomme rallied the Panthers, but they still trailed 23-18 with 16 seconds remaining and the ball on the Jaguars 12. Delhomme called the play: Reno. It was a pass play the Panthers had practiced dozens of times, but never with Proehl, who was in his first season with the team.
We couldn’t understand a word he said. Slow it down, Jake, we said, repeat the play! It was comical.
“I came in motion from right to left, and saw they were in man (defense),” said Proehl. “But they tried to tried to switch it off and I ran a corner route (into the end zone).
“Jake made a great throw.”
Proehl came down with it. The Panthers won 24-23.
Rather than suffering a dispiriting loss to open the season, the Panthers won their first five games and went on to play in the Super Bowl, where they lost 32-29 to the New England Patriots. Delhomme and Proehl hooked up on a 12-yard touchdown pass that tied the game with one minute, 8 seconds left.
“That year was the first year with the Panthers for myself and Jake,” Proehl said. “I’d had success in the league before, but I wanted to prove myself to my new teammates, that I could perform and be productive for them. It was important for me, and I’m sure it was for Jake, as well.”