- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

HOUSTON. — What’s with all these Super Bowl quarterbacks from Louisiana, anyway? Are they putting something in the gumbo down there, something that doesn’t show up in drug testing? When he takes his first snap for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Jake Delhomme will be the sixth — that’s right, sixth — QB from the Bayou State to play in the Roman Numeral Game. Not bad considering that, at last count, Louisiana had a modest 4.5million inhabitants (excluding crawfish).

Here’s a statistic that will really shock you. It comes from Gil Brandt, former scouting czar with the Dallas Cowboys. “The state of Louisiana,” he says, “is fourth overall in producing players for the NFL. I’m talking about kids who went to high school there. It’s even ahead of Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are obviously much bigger. Pretty amazing, huh?”

It is, indeed. So it follows, then, that the state would turn out a disproportionate number of passers, too. Shreveport spawned Terry Bradshaw, Stan Humphries and David Woodley — Super Bowl quarterbacks all — not to mention longtime Buffalo starter Joe Ferguson, who went to the same high school as Bradshaw (Woodlawn). Zachary, population 11,275, gave us Doug Williams, Redskins hero and Super Bowl XXII MVP. Delhomme is from Breaux Ridge, which is even tinier than Zachary.

And can you name the sixth Louisiana QB to play in the Ultimate Game? How about Norris Weese, a product of Chalmette, who came off the bench in Super Bowl XII and guided Denver to its only touchdown in a 27-10 loss to Dallas. (Weese and Ferguson actually squared off in a high school playoff game in ‘68, with Joe prevailing.)

And those are just some of them. You’ve also got Bert Jones and the Redskins’ Patrick Ramsey from Ruston, and James Harris and Bubby Brister from Monroe. Bobby Hebert played for the South Lafourche High School Fighting Tarpons, and Peyton Manning starred for Isidore Newman High in New Orleans. Harris and Williams even have sociological significance apart from their quarterbacking accomplishments. They helped break down barriers for black QBs and paved the way for the Donovan McNabbs and Michael Vicks who would follow.

“I don’t know why so many quarterbacks have come out of Louisiana,” Delhomme says, “but I wouldn’t mind adding to the legacy. I do know that football is king there. I saw Stan Humphries play against my brother in college, and when I was in middle school I followed [future New England Patriot] Tommy Hodson at LSU. After the conference championship games last weekend, Peyton called me up, and we talked a little bit.”

These Louisiana QBs, after all, have to stick together.

Dan Henning, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, recalls trying to recruit Ferguson when he was an assistant at Florida State. “He’d played on a 14-0 team that won the state championship, and the whole world wanted him,” Henning said. “A.L. Williams coached him in Shreveport and [later] coached Bobby Hebert at Northwestern State [in Natchitoches]. He’s responsible for a lot of it. He was an outstanding football coach.”

Williams liked to pitch it around, no question. But it didn’t begin with him. He was only doing what his coach at Louisiana Tech in the ‘50s, Joe Aillet, had been doing for years. Aillet is a legend at Tech; the football stadium there is named for him. A veteran sportswriter recently described him to the Ruston Daily Leader as “innovative, years ahead of his time in the passing game and spreading the field before most coaches did.”

Brandt has memories of Aillet as well. “He used to come to the Cowboys’ training camp,” he says, “and that was unheard of in the early ‘60s for a small-college coach. Coaches from schools like Michigan would visit, but not coaches from schools like Louisiana Tech. But he was interested in how the pros were doing things, and he and Tom [Landry] became pretty good friends.”

Aillet’s airborne approach influenced the entire state. “You look at high school football in Louisiana now,” says Brandt, “and it seems like everybody throws the ball a lot.”

So Delhomme is more than just a clipboard-to-riches tale of a quarterback finally getting his Big Break. He’s also the latest in a line of Louisiana QBs that stretches back to Bradshaw, winner of four Super Bowls with the Steelers in the ‘70s, and extends through Ramsey, whose career is just beginning. And there will be others, you can be sure, after Patrick.

They’re a different breed, Louisiana quarterbacks are — fiery, pass-first-and-ask-questions-later types — and Delhomme definitely fits the mold. In his debut with Carolina earlier this season, he rallied the Panthers from a 17-0 deficit against Jacksonville.

“I’ll never forget it,” tight end Kris Mangum says. “He comes in, starts slapping people in the head and giving them high fives and says, ‘Let’s roll.’ You can’t coach that.”

Yup, must be something in the gumbo. Give me another bowl of that stuff, will ya?

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