The heat of the afternoon beat down on the Tampa Bay Bucs Monday, no doubt a by-product of the warm and fuzzy feelings between a football coach and his quarterback.
It was the start of the spring practices, and Greg loved Josh and Josh loved Greg and all was good in the land of the Bucs, where every drop of sweat cascaded like a heart drawn on a window pane.
Yes sir, they are quite the couple, coach Greg Schiano and Josh Freeman, his quarterback. Their initials are carved in the nearest oak.
Why, then, doesn't anyone seem to buy it?
Around the nation, in the fringes of the Internet, there are those who will tell you that Freeman doesn't make Schiano happy, and that draftee Mike Glennon is really Schiano's guy, and that it is a matter of time before Glennon supplants Freeman. This is where the world of covering football has gone — to whispers and to matchmaking.
Of course, if you care, there is also this to consider:
"We have our starting quarterback," Schiano said. "It's Josh Freeman. I'm not looking to find a new one."
Yet, the perception that Freeman isn't Schiano's guy persists. Every now and then, Schiano says something in an interview that seems to keep the door cracked for Glennon. The latest evidence was in a National Football Post story by Dan Pompei, in which Schiano is quoted as saying that Glennon could play quickly, but only if there is an injury or if Glennon "beats out Freeman," which Schiano is "not against."
In the NFL, particularly when the subject is a starting quarterback, it doesn't take much for a conspiracy to start.
Schiano swears, however, that he does not spend his evenings pushing pins into a Freeman doll. Hey, he likes Freeman.
"Believe it or not, we have a good relationship," Schiano said.
"I'm just trying to tell the truth. I believe in competition, and Josh is our starting quarterback. Maybe I shouldn't say anything. But Josh knows, and you guys know, and Mike Glennon knows. I don't think it bothers Josh. He knows this is his team."
Perhaps. But even the suggestion that Freeman could lose his job to a rookie from the third round speaks volumes. He is not an established quarterback like Drew Brees or Matt Ryan or other quarterbacks who are beyond the question of being beaten out.
No one will deny that this is a crucial year for Freeman, who needs to iron out the rough patches of his play. For one thing, his contract is up; if he is still the Bucs' best chance at winning, he needs to demonstrate it.
Monday, he seemed to take a nice first step.
"His first time out last year, when you lined up 11 on 11, he was still worried about verbiage and identification," Schiano said. "Now, he's worried about the finer points, which is a nice place to start. I thought he was sharp. He had a command and a presence."
No wonder. This is Freeman's second season in Mike Sullivan's offense. There has to be a better comfort area.
And make no mistake. Freeman assumes he still has the keys to the offense, too.
"No question about it," Freeman said.
Oh, Freeman likes Glennon, too. He raves about his arm strength, about his footwork. He seems ready to take the older brother role with him.
"You want the best possible option behind you," Freeman said. "Dan (Orlovsky) is a great player, too. But obviously we wanted to grab a younger guy, too. Say, down the road, we're making a run and something happens to me. You want a guy who can come in and keep it going."
At age 25, why would Freeman see it any differently? Yes, he has had some bad games when he threw too many passes to the wrong jerseys, but he has also had more good ones that his critics want to admit. And that's the reaction that Freeman draws. Critics talk about his back-to-back four interception games at the end of the season. Supporters talk about five straight games with a quarterback rating of more than 100.
Ah, but by nature, coaches are restless creatures. It seems clear that Schiano wanted an alternative for Freeman if those scatter-shooting days continue.
"Coach and I have a great relationship," Freeman said. "I'm up there every week, talking about ball, about the team, about life."
Freeman knows the score, too. He not only has to prove he is the best option, he has to prove he is worth the, say, $15 million a year or so that he could get in 2014. He has to show this is indeed his team, and that he can take it beyond expectations. He has to be a difference maker, or eventually there will probably be a different quarterback. Nothing new to that.
"It's the most competitive sports league in America," Schiano said. "Look, there is someone who wants my job. I'm competing with an invisible somebody. If I don't get it done, someone is going to come and take my job."
My guess? Schiano likes Freeman just fine … on the good days. He does have high expectations for him. On the other hand, Schiano likes one thing better.