By Francis LaBelle Jr.
Until most recently, the town of Breaux Bridge, La. was basically known for heat, from the characteristic climate of Louisiana's Cajun Country, to its proud title of "Crawfish Capital of the World," to its distinction as the hometown of 1996 Miss USA Ali Landry.But the hottest thing in Breaux Bridge these day is native son Jake Delhomme, who as their quarterback, has helped guide the Carolina Panthers to the National Football League's National Football Conference Championship, which happened with a 14-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.As a result, Delhomme and crew will head to Reliant Stadium in Houston, Tex. Feb. 1 to face the American Football Conference Champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII (6:25 pm. Eastern; CBS-TV).To get to this point has been remarkable for Delhomme. He helped win the NFL Europe's 1999 World Bowl Cup for the Frankfurt Galaxy before coming back to the NFL to play for the New Orleans Saints. He was signed by Carolina in March of 2003 as a backup to veteran Rodney Peete, and then took over the job when Peete was injured.The rest has been a dream realized, and racetrackers can certainly appreciate Delhomme's success story.After all, he is one of us. The 6-foot-2 Delhomme, who turned 29 on January 10 -- the same day his Panthers defeated the St. Louis Rams to advance to the NFC title game -- was raised on a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse farm in Louisiana, and is a big fan of racing.Monday afternoon, after entertaining a crowd of reporters at their home, Jerry and Marsha Delhomme talked about their family's link to horses.
"I used to ride at these little bush tracks, and I've had a training license for 35 years here in Louisiana," Jerry Delhomme said. "We have a little Mom and Pop operation, and run about six or seven horses each year at Delta Downs and Evangeline. When we can, we use (jockey) Robby Albarado, who grew up about a mile or two from here."Both Jake and my eldest son, Jeff, have always loved horses, and when he comes back here in the off-season, Jake is a helluva groom -- those long arms of his help him to really get in there and shovel things out. My son, Jeff, gallops horses for me."Jake's continued success may prove to have a bearing on the future of the family's racing business."Jake owns all of the horses we have, and he can talk bloodlines with the best of them," Jerry Delhomme said. "We love the claiming game, but we have been talking that if things keep going well for Jake, we might go to Kentucky to try to get a good broodmare later this year. It would be thrilling for us to be able to compete in Kentucky or New York someday."As focused as his son is on football these days, he is never out of touch with racing."This farm taught my boys discipline, and we have always done this purely from a sporting angle," Jerry Delhomme said. "This has nothing to do with gambling. We have a lot of fun, and Jake finds it relaxing."When they played the St. Louis Rams last week, Jake called me to tell me to check out the eighth race that night at Delta Downs and put a claim in on a horse named Ruthy Red that he thought would make a nice broodmare. We won a four-way shake and got her for $7,500."Ruthy Red won and paid $5.40 Proving that when you're hot, you're hot.