Have you ever been driving along, not quite sure of where you are, and then you pull up to a stop sign and suddenly realize you’ve arrived at a pretty cool place?
That’s where we find ourselves today – at a surprise intersection between the Carolina Panthers’ present and their past.
Jake Delhomme won 53 games for the Panthers as a starting quarterback. Cam Newton has won 53 games for the Panthers as a starting quarterback.
Neither Cam nor Jake knew that they are now tied at No. 1 atop the “Most Wins as a Panther QB” leaderboard until I mentioned it to them separately this week.
“Really?” Newton said.
“I would have thought he had already broken it by now, especially after the 15-1 season,” Delhomme said of Newton.
No, he hasn’t, but Newton could on Sunday against New Orleans at Bank of America Stadium as the Panthers try to start their season 3-0.
Newton and Delhomme have won in very different ways as Carolina’s two most successful quarterbacks ever, but they have won at nearly the same rate. Delhomme made the playoffs with Carolina three times in seven years and got the team to one Super Bowl, which the Panthers lost. In the regular season with Carolina, he was 53-37 for a winning percentage of 58.9.
Newton has made the playoffs with Carolina three times in six years (this is his seventh NFL season) and got the team to one Super Bowl, which the Panthers lost. In the regular season with Carolina, he is 53-40-1 for a winning percentage of 56.9.
Of course, their physical skills are far different, which is why the 6-foot-5, 245-pound (at least) Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and Delhomme went undrafted.
“Cam has his own category by himself in the NFL as far as body type,” Delhomme said. “There’s nobody where you can say, ‘Cam reminds me of so-and-so.’ There’s no one in the same stratosphere because of his size and strength and running ability. … I would like to think I was a normal size – 6-2, about 220. And Cam is Julius Peppers playing quarterback.”
The golden 10 minutes
For a quarterback, nothing is more important than winning. As New Orleans coach Sean Payton said of the QB spot this week: “The first job description of that position is to win.”
Newton – who has been limited in practice again this week because of shoulder and ankle injuries but again is expected to play on Sunday – often speaks to the goal of “trying to go 1-0 for the week.”
Delhomme said in our telephone interview this week of various quarterbacking statistics: “Yards, touchdowns, interceptions – that’s all a lot of BS. But there’s something about coming into a locker room after a game that you win – that 10 minutes when it’s just the coaches and the players. There’s nothing greater than that.”
So for Newton to become the Panthers’ No. 1 all-time winningest quarterback is no small feat, and he knows it. While he minimizes many career landmarks that he hits, No. 1 doesn’t minimize this one.
“For me to have that potentially under my belt – and you can’t count a goal until you actually see it go through the net – it’s a blessing,” Newton said.
Delhomme and Newton have each shepherded one of the two most successful stretches in team history. Delhomme quarterbacked Carolina from 2003-09. He doesn’t get credit as a starting quarterback for a 54th win he actually had at Carolina, because he came off the bench in his very first game, at halftime against Jacksonville in the 2003 season opener.
The Panthers roared back from 17-0 down to win that game on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Delhomme to Ricky Proehl. That started a string of three playoff appearances in six years for the Panthers (2003, 2005 and 2008), and Delhomme would direct five playoff wins during that stretch. But Delhomme was released after a nasty 2009 season (eight TDs, 18 interceptions), even though Carolina, under then-and-now general manager Marty Hurney, had given him a lucrative contract extension only 11 months before.
Delhomme said he holds no grudges against Hurney and then-coach John Fox for firing him following the 2009 season. “They did the right thing for the organization,” Delhomme said. “I wasn’t playing well enough to deserve to be the starting quarterback anymore. It was very simple.”
A 14-year age difference
Newton’s career with the Panthers started far earlier than Delhomme’s. Newton is 28 and in his seventh season – he started from Day One as a 22-year-old rookie in 2011. Delhomme was 28 in his first season as a Panther, in 2003, after languishing on the bench in New Orleans in the pre-Drew Brees era. Their 14-year age difference – and the geographical challenge resulting from Delhomme living with his family in Louisiana and Newton living in Charlotte – likely accounts for the fact that they are friendly acquaintances but not close friends.
“We know each other and we talk and whatnot,” Delhomme said. “I’ve been invited to a couple of functions that he has, but just not living there it’s hard for me to make them. So I can’t say there’s a deep relationship there, but I think that’s just due to proximity.”
In between Delhomme and Newton came the darkness of 2010, also known as The Jimmy Clausen Era/Error. The Panthers went 2-14 that season and scored touchdowns with the regularity of a solar eclipse. But that spectacular failure allowed Carolina to earn the No. 1 draft pick and select Newton the next season.
Newton may well get to 100 regular-season victories or more by the time his Carolina career is over (Tom Brady has 184 with New England). Newton is signed through the 2020 season with the Panthers and said he cherishes the idea that he is “one of the intricate pieces” of a team that is still young by NFL standards. He said he remembers in his rookie season of 2011 – as the team stumbled out of the Clausen darkness – and how much less vibrant the stadium and the Charlotte tailgate scene was compared to today.
“When I used to come to the games my rookie year, you wouldn’t see the tailgates. ... You wouldn’t feel the excitement we feel now,” Newton said. “I go to the game this past Sunday (against Buffalo) and everybody’s out – exuberant, happy, smiling. You see the smoke from the tailgates. Everybody’s cheering. … When you walk into the stadium, that energy that you feel is contagious.”
‘Could have won in spite of me’
It will be that way again Sunday at 1 p.m. as the Panthers try to beat New Orleans and Newton tries to edge past Delhomme on the all-time win list. To hear Delhomme tell it, whether Carolina wins or not will mostly be up to Newton once again.
“Our team in Carolina right now is basically predicated on how he plays,” Delhomme said of Newton. “I think most teams are like that, but I think it’s more heavily tilted toward if Cam plays well, we’re going to win the game. Whereas I think they did some things when I was there, we kind of maneuvered it so they could have won in spite of me, so to speak.”
Delhomme is selling himself short there – he had more fourth-quarter, game-winning drives than his career than Newton has had. Delhomme also has more playoff wins (5-3). He said, though, that he hopes Newton breaks his playoff win record and all the others before Newton is done.
“I don’t pull up a Panthers media guide and look at stats,” Delhomme said. “I really don’t. But winning? I mean, that’s hard. Look at last week. Our roster is better than Buffalo’s roster, and still, Buffalo’s defense played outstanding and the Bills almost won. Winning is what it’s all about. That’s something worth working for, and I know Cam will keep working for it.”
Cam and Jake: 5 key comparisons
Cam Newton and Jake Delhomme hold practically all the quarterbacking records in Carolina Panther history. A comparison of several key numbers from their time in Charlotte:
RECORD AS A PANTHERS STARTER