All the Panthers wanted was for Jake Delhomme to have a shot at leading them to victory in the fourth quarter. No matter how bad he looked for most of the first three quarters of the Super Bowl, they knew he'd come through when it mattered most.
He did. It just wasn't enough to top the last-second dramatics of Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Despite a go-ahead 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad and a 12-yarder to Ricky Proehl that tied it with 1:08 left, Delhomme could only watch as Vinatieri's kick lifted New England past Carolina 32-29 Sunday night.
When the Panthers' last-chance kickoff return was stopped and time expired without him getting back on the field, Delhomme stood on the sideline with his helmet off, his hands on his hips, biting his lip. He was practically in a trance watching the Patriots celebrate amid the falling confetti, snapping out of it when New England running back Kevin Faulk came by for a quick hug.
Of all the thoughts flooding Delhomme's mind, there had to be a sense of what might've been. After all, he'd missed two-point conversion passes after the first two of Carolina's three fourth-quarter touchdowns. With one or both of those, everything might have been different.
The Panthers were used to this kind of nail-biting finish, although they usually were the ones who were celebrating. They had 12 of 16 regular-season games decided by six points or less, going to overtime four times. They needed double overtime to get by the Rams in the NFC division playoff game.
What they wouldn't have done for one more extra period.
In those close games, Delhomme often led them to the winning points. He did it against the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Redskins and Jaguars and had a 69-yard touchdown to Steve Smith that beat St. Louis three weeks ago.