My friend Scott just emailed to ask why I’m not hyping up the Cajun of the moment — Jake Delhomme, starting quarterback of the Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers.
Jake is a Cajun through and through — born and raised in the Crawfish Capital of the World, Breaux Bridge, prepped at Teurlings Catholic, played college ball for the Ragin’ Cajuns of UL Lafayette, and spent six seasons as a backup QB for the New Orleans Saints before heading to Carolina last year.
And everyone acknowledges he’s a great guy — I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him. My grandmother worships him. She calls him “Jake.” She hasn’t called a professional football player by his first name since the last great Cajun QB, Bobby Hebert.
But see, it’s complicated. For his last three years in New Orleans, Jake was the backup to QB Aaron Brooks. Brooks is enormously talented — tall and mobile, with a strong arm and good decision making. But in the eyes of many Saints fans, he has flaws:
– He’s lazy and doesn’t try hard enough.
– He lacks “leadership qualities.”
– He plays dumb, throwing too many interceptions at key moments.
– He doesn’t just play dumb — he is dumb. He scored a 17 on the Wonderlic (the quasi-IQ test NFL teams give to potential draft picks) — a score considered low for a quarterback (although far from the lowest in the league).
There’s one other complicating factor — Aaron Brooks is black. It’s not hard to see how the criticisms of Brooks (lazy, stupid) are rooted in racial stereotypes. I’m not being a weepy liberal and saying you can’t criticize Brooks — he has done some dumb things at crunch time — but I can 100-percent guarantee you that Saints fans would hail him to high heaven if he was white.
The Saints have been very mediocre recently — they’re 24-24 in the last three years — and Brooks gets the blame. That’s a bit silly, since the huge glaring weakness in recent years has been the defense, which Brooks has nothing to do with. (Last year, the Saints had the third-highest scoring offense in the league, despite Brooks playing through a rotator cuff tear.) But whenever the Saints lose a game, the illiterate, racist yahoos come out of the swamp and start calling for Brooks’ head. (Check out the Saints Forum during the season after a loss. You’ll be shocked at the racist drivel they pump out: “That’s what happens when you put a n—– in charge,” that sort of thing. Go there now, in the offseason, and you’ll just be shocked at the poor spelling.)
And since Jake Delhomme was the backup — not to mention a good ol’ country boy — the comments were usually along the lines of “Get rid of the n—–, give ol’ Jake a chance.” Of course, that’s not Jake’s fault — he’s not the racist, just the beneficiary of racist sentiment.
So when Jake left for Carolina as a free agent last year, part of me was happy that I wouldn’t have to be hearing his name called so often by the worst element of Saints fans.
As it turns out, Aaron Brooks had his best season this year. He had the eighth-highest quarterback rating in the 32-team league, beating out stars like Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia. He’s worked hard to cut down on interceptions, his biggest problem: After throwing 22 in 2001 and 15 in 2002, he threw only eight this season, the best of any NFL starter. He broke the Saints record for the highest QB rating in team history.
And after flopping at the end of previous seasons, he had a tremendous finish this year. In his last six games, he threw 11 touchdowns against zero interceptions, along with running for two scores. He was named first alternate to the Pro Bowl (behind only superstars Favre, Culpepper, and McNabb). He had a great year.
Jake, in contrast, was okay. He threw 19 touchdowns against 16 interceptions (vs. Brooks’ 24 and 8). He proved himself to be a perfectly average NFL quarterback (14th highest rated in a 32-team league). Fortunately for him, he plays for a team with an amazing defense (No. 1 in the league) who played a weak schedule in a down year for the NFC. (Carolina beat only one team with a winning record all season.)
And now a bunch of yahoos are saying the same crap as before — lionizing Jake as a good ol’ boy, vilifying Aaron because he’s black.
So it’s complicated. Reasons I should be thrilled for Jake:
– He’s a fellow Cajun.
– He’s evidently a really good guy.
– He’s an ex-Ragin’ Cajun and ex-Saint.
Reasons not to be thrilled for Jake:
– He plays for the Panthers, a division rival of the Saints and a team I’ve always hated.
– At a certain level, he’s just riding the coattails of his team’s defense.
– Rooting for him aligns you, in a very unfortunate way, with the worst elements of football fans.
I’ve been reserved in my rooting, but I think I’m going to let loose. The anti-Jake reasons aren’t really his fault, and he can’t be held responsible for the actions of bad Saints fans. And Cajun blood does run thick. And, luckily for Jake, I really hate the New England Patriots, the Panthers’ Super Bowl opponents.
So…Go Jake! (Or, more appropriately: Geaux Jake!)