As a starter, Delhomme faces old team

Updated: October 2, 2003, 7:18 PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jake Delhomme didn't make a strong first impression on New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett.

Fresh off eye surgery, Haslett said Delhomme was "tripping and falling and stumbling" as he struggled to complete a jump-roping exercise.

"I went right upstairs after that and said to the quarterback coach, 'What the heck is this?' " Haslett said. "He was bumbling around and it was part of (the eye surgery), but that was my first introduction to Jake."

Haslett warmed up to the quarterback and kept him around as a backup to Aaron Brooks in New Orleans for four seasons. Now Delhomme is a starter for Carolina, preparing to face his old team Sunday in an NFC South game.

"It's going to be exciting," Delhomme said. "I have a lot of old friends there."

Playing in New Orleans was a dream job for Delhomme, who grew up in Breaux Bridge, La., rooting for the Saints.

As ideal as it was -- having his family nearby, helping out his new wife and daughter -- Delhomme wanted a chance to be a starter. He knew he'd never unseat Brooks, so he left over the winter for a shot to start in Carolina.

For Haslett, saying goodbye to Delhomme was like sending one of his children off to college.

"When we got him he was an unpolished quarterback," Haslett said. "It's tough when you're with somebody for three years and you see them grow and then they leave.

"But it's also rewarding to see what he's doing with a good football team."

After replacing Rodney Peete midway through the season-opener, when he threw three touchdown passes to lift the Panthers to a victory, Delhomme has guided the Panthers to a 3-0 start and the top of the division standings.

He's coming off his best game -- 168 yards passing and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl, with no interceptions for the first time -- in a 23-3 victory over Atlanta on Sunday.

Now he wants to beat the Saints, but not because he's got hard feelings against his former team. If he could have competed for the starting spot, Delhomme never would have left New Orleans. And the Saints would have loved to have kept him, as well.

"They didn't let me go -- it's not like I was playing for them and they said, 'He's not good enough. We're going to let him go," Delhomme said. "I have no grudge against them. They wanted me back.

"When I said I was coming here, I talked to Haslett that day. All he could wish me was best of luck. He said, 'We wanted you here. It didn't work out. I'm going to pull for you for 14 games."

Delhomme does the same, pulling for the Saints when they aren't playing the Panthers. That and a freezer full of Louisiana delicacies helps keep him from getting homesick.

Delhomme, a true Cajun with a full accent and appetite to match, has enough crawfish stocked up to remember home.

"I had shrimp gumbo Monday night," he said. "I'm not hurting."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index