Jake Del-who?

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

It's conference championship weekend, and at quarterback we've got co-MVP Peyton Manning, four-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb, former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme.

Jake Del-who?

"The best answer is he is a young man who has always believed in himself," says Sonny Charpentier, who coached the Carolina Panthers' quarterback at Teurlings Catholic high school in Lafayette, La.

"There are a lot of clich ├ęs in there, but he was persistent, got a shot and has taken advantage of it."

It's a good thing Delhomme truly believed in himself, because just about no one else did. Brady is often labeled as a rags-to-riches story, but he was a sixth-round pick out of mighty Michigan.

Delhomme, 29, was a no-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette.

And that's just the start. He hails from little Breaux Bridge, La., a town of 7,300 people located 125 miles west of New Orleans in the heart of Cajun country. As a high school senior he wasn't even an all-state quarterback selection (Josh Booty of Shreveport beat him out) and was recruited by only two colleges.

Despite breaking Terry Bradshaw's record for the most throwing yards in state history while in college, Mike Ditka (then with the Saints) was the only NFL personnel man who cared to notice. And even Ditka didn't fashion him as a starter.

Delhomme appeared in just six games over five seasons with the Saints (and several more in NFL Europe) before Carolina signed him as a free agent last spring.

Now he has the Panthers one victory from the Super Bowl.

Not since Bobby Boucher gave up water boy duties at South Central Louisiana State University has someone from Cajun Country so exploded on the football scene.

Delhomme's against-all-odds story is one reason he is assured a hero's welcome back in Breaux Bridge this offseason. The other is because the mayor, Jack Dale Delhomme, is his father's cousin.

"Want to hear my campaign slogan?" asks Mr. Mayor. "A Delhomme in every home.'"

That bit of political genius worked so well he not only won election, but was unopposed for a second term even though the correct pronunciation is Da-LOOM. After two playoff victories for the Panthers, you're better off running against a Bush in Crawford, Texas than a Delhomme in Breaux Bridge.

But Jake Delhomme isn't the only thing the town has going for it. First off, it is the self-proclaimed Crawfish Capital of the World. Visitors are treated to mountains of "the world's best crawfish" at the annual Crawfish Festival each May.

While that claim is subjective, we do know that once during the festival's eating contest, a man named Nick Stipelcovich devoured a record 56 pounds of crawfish. So it couldn't have been bad.

"It's all in how you season the meat," notes the Mayor.

Breaux Bridge has also produced Domanick Davis, who plays for the Houston Texans, and a certain Ms. Ali Landry, former Miss USA and Doritos mega-babe. All from this one tiny town?

"Not to mention," says Mayor Delhomme, "I'm the greatest mayor in the United States."

Perhaps this is why Jake Delhomme never lost the belief that he would be a NFL starter.

"He is the most competitive kid I coached in 24 years here," said Charpentier. "He [wasn't going] to quit."

Consider the game his senior year against Vermilion (La.) Catholic in which Delhomme played both ways, threw for a couple touchdowns, made an interception, kicked a go-ahead field goal and then, when VC drove down the field in the final minute, blocked what would have been the game-winning field goal.

"If anybody ever won a game single handedly, that was it," said Charpentier.

But last spring, with just 50 completions to show for his five NFL seasons, he didn't look like he would ever make an impact.

Then the Panthers signed him to back up Rodney Peete. When Peete struggled in the opener against Jacksonville, Delhomme came in and delivered three touchdowns and a dramatic victory. He has been the starter ever since.

"I really believed all he ever needed was a chance," Mayor Delhomme says.

Delhomme isn't the best quarterback in the league. His 80.6 QB rating, 201.2 yards per game and ratio of19 touchdowns to 16 picks won't make Manning jealous. But he has led the Panthers to seven come-from-behind victories.

This has made him so popular back home that Carolina games are carried on a local radio station. What Panthers paraphernalia was in stores is now sold out. And this season, most of the talk down at the Caf Orleans on Bridge Street was no longer about the Saints.

Now Delhomme is just one victory from a trip to the Super Bowl in Houston, which is a four-hour drive from his hometown.

"It's wild here now, but if that happens?" muses the Mayor. "Can you imagine?"

Laissez le bon temps rouler. It promises to be even bigger than the Crawfish Festival.

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