Here at Camp Doubt, no one stumbled while running onto the field. No one tripped over the low expectations. Best of all, nobody got lost on the way to the 2009 season.
Say this much for the Tampa Bay Bucs.
One day in and already they're overachievers.
The Bucs bravely began their training camp Saturday, and despite everything you might have heard, no one surrendered on the spot. No one wore a bicycle helmet by mistake, no one brought a round ball, and by and large, everyone faced in the proper direction.
If you have been paying attention to the predictions, maybe you would have expected pratfalls and bloopers. After all, everyone seems to agree these Bucs are going to be awful. It has been a long time — Tony Dungy's first season? Sam Wyche's last season? Richard Williamson's only season? — since anyone expected less out of a Bucs football season.
This team is supposed to be bad. Execute-the-offense bad. Lars-Tate-off-tackle bad. Let's-draft-Booker-Reese bad. Party-like-it's-1986 bad.
Bucs Bad. You remember that, don't you?
Well, according to most prognosticators, Bucs Bad is back.
You can spend all the time you want on the Internet, and you still aren't going to find a preseason power rating that doesn't list the Bucs somewhere among the worst 10 teams in the NFL. You can thumb through every magazine on the rack, and you aren't going find anyone who picks the Bucs higher than last in the NFC South.
Let's see: ESPN.com has the Bucs at 26 out of 32 teams. CNNSI.com has them at 27. CBS Sportsline and Fox say 23. And so on.
"I don't expect much from them," analyst Danny Sheridan said. "I think they're in rebuilding mode. I think their glaring weakness is the lack of a proven quarterback. If you look across their division, the other teams have that."
Sheridan has the Bucs' over-under at 6½ victories. He has it at 5-1 against them having a winning season. He said they will win fewer games than the Dolphins, the Jaguars, the University of Florida, Florida State and Miami.
And there may be plagues and locusts.
"The good news is they're in good shape for a top 10 draft pick," Sheridan said.
Consider the Sporting News preview that gives the Bucs a grade of C at defensive line, linebacker and defensive back (plus a D at quarterback). Consider Lindy's Pro Football preview. On a 10-point scale, it gives the Bucs a league-low 6.0 for a coach, a 6.5 at quarterback and 6.5s on the defensive line and linebacker.
The entire offseason has been this way. The Bucs have a new coach, a new offense, a new defense. They have a difficult schedule, and they're coming off a late-season collapse. More familiar names left the building in the offseason than came in. No one knows who the quarterback will be.
In other words, the pessimists have coach Raheem Morris surrounded. Still, Morris said he expects the Bucs to compete. This year. "I don't know how to coach to come in second."
Give the Bucs players credit. They, too, seem to believe.
Davin Joseph, for instance: "I understand why we aren't getting any credit. But the way I look at it, we have a lot of guys whose time it is to shine. I believe we have all the talent in the world. The only guys who can hurt us are ourselves."
Barrett Ruud, for instance: "Sometimes I'm amused when I see the predictions, and sometimes I'm annoyed, and sometimes I'm motivated. I think we have the potential to be a good defense. I definitely think we can be a playoff team this year."
Earnest Graham, for instance: "It's an illusion there is that much difference between players. The people doing the predictions are saying what to expect, but as players, you have to realize that's not how it has to be."
Outside the huddle, the skies look darker. So how bad is it going to be? Ray Perkins bad? Throwin' Samoan bad? Bo-Knows-Baseball bad?
It depends. I'd call it at six wins. Steady quarterback play can get the Bucs to seven. A great pass rush can move them to eight.
After that, the Bucs have a lot of convincing to do.