CHARLOTTE -- There was almost a funeral feel around Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme Wednesday, as people kept walking up and shaking his hand, wishing him luck and shaking their heads.
But Delhomme was just about all smiles, saying as disappointed as he is to miss the rest of the season, he's relieved to finally get his right elbow fixed. He admitted he's been having pain in his elbow and forearm for the last three seasons, so declaring him out for the year and scheduling the surgery represents a step forward.
The joint has bothered him enough in recent offseasons that he stopped mucking out stalls at his Louisiana horse farm, trying to ease the strain on his moneymaking right arm.
"I quit doing that last offseason," Delhomme said with a grin. "There's no need to chance it."
That attitude's why the first peek at his mortality doesn't seem to scare him, as much as starting the next chapter of his career excites him.
"I remember Steve Smith having that injury deal a couple of years ago. It will be tough," Delhomme said. "But if I can't do it, I can't do it. I keep on saying, 'I've been lucky, man.' Knock on wood, I haven't had many injuries. This is the first one I'm going to have to have surgery on."
Delhomme will have Tommy John surgery next week at Carolinas Medical Center, with the operation performed by team physician Dr. Pat Connor. To add to the familiar surroundings, trainer Ryan Vermillion is one of the few to have brought guys back from the procedure, having helped Miami's Craig Erickson back in 1998.
Doctors will harvest tissue from elsewhere in his body -- he shook his head and seemed creeped out by the cadaver option -- to rebuild the ulnar collateral ligament, which connects the bones of the upper and lower arm.
The surgery's more common in pitchers, whose rehabs last a year or more. But Delhomme said he's confident he'll be ready for training camp next year, a seven- to nine-month recovery period the standard among the doctors he's consulted. He said the plan is to begin throwing gently in four months, which should give him plenty of time.
There is some trepidation for the team, which had to sign 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde to re-stock the position.
"I think it's tough at every level," general manager Marty Hurney said. "Obviously professional, but personal too, because you know the kind of guy he is and what he represents. He's really our kind of guy, the kind of guy you like to have around.
"But the key to this is, he's going to get better. He's going to be back."
If he can come back the way he started this year, they'd be ecstatic. He's the second-highest rated passer in the NFL, with a 111.9 rating and eight touchdowns against just one interception.
He was loving the new system of offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson -- although it's a development of the themes of which he was already having success -- and said that made this absence tougher than last year, when he missed three late games with a thumb injury.
Delhomme figured it was coming, when he threw early in the Panthers' win at New Orleans. He had a hunch he wouldn't have been able to let it fly, and upon coming home, made a decision.
He went to the practice field Monday with Vermillion and quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy and found out his arm wasn't ready.
"I warmed up and I felt fine warming up," Delhomme said. "It went through my mind it might hurt, but I've got to cut it loose. I was able to do that and it didn't feel too good. So I said, 'Screw it. I've got to know right now.'
"It grabbed me pretty good, like when I threw it to (Brad) Hoover (in Atlanta)."
He said no amount of rest was going to fix the damage, and Monday confirmed it. In previous years, the issue was tendinitis, such that he could warm up, throw and eventually push through. Not so much anymore, so he cut back on his offseason throwing to try and save his arm.
"There's a big difference between hurt and injured," he said. "I was hurting, but I wasn't injured. But then I injured it and it's not what it was."
Delhomme said he plans to travel with the team to road games and stay on the sidelines for home games. He's trying to stay as involved as possible, knowing there's a limit until next summer.
"I will be a part of this team," Delhomme said. "I will travel with this team, after I get my surgery. I will be on the field Sunday and I will be a cheerleader. I'm a Carolina Panther, I just can't put on the uniform."
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