As a team, they were going to be better.
As an organization, they were going to be higher-minded.
As a franchise, they were going to be Lovelier.
Then temptation wanders past, and the next thing you know, the Tampa Bay Bucs have asked the devil to dance.
Tampa Bay's kinder, friendlier image took a hit Monday morning when the team asked the toxic Richie Incognito to stop by for a visit. Just like that, the Bucs became like every other team trying to turn third and 2 into third and 1. Just like that, the Bucs became all about football — and only about football — without any pretense of being standing for anything more.
Granted, the team did not offer Incognito a contract — at least not yet. Head coach Lovie Smith cautions everyone to slow down. This is only for a visit, he says.
Still, you don't have to offer the guy a job for this to be a terrible idea. To even allow the locker room conversation to center around Incognito, to allow the rest of the league to chuckle in your direction, is an awful notion. It suggests that a team will put up with anything, and with anyone, in the name of football. Any other suggestion is spin-doctoring.
The Oakland Raiders didn't want this guy.
The Cleveland Browns didn't want this guy.
The Detroit Lions didn't want this guy.
This team? It wants to think about it. It wants to ponder adding a man who, according the Wells report, was such a vile, racist bully that football could go on without him. It wants to kick the tires on a guy the rest of the league threw away. Yeah, that's just what this locker room needs, isn't it? Even flirting with Incognito is an admission that anything is okay as long as it's a step toward winning.
Hey, I get it. This is football, and diplomacy has very little to do with it. It's a tough way to make a living. But don't you have to draw a line somewhere?
"Would I have a football player on our team that I think would mess up our team chemistry?" Smith said. "The answer is no. Simple as that."
Still, Smith is intrigued enough to bring the guy to town. He wants to talk. He wants to consider.
Look, this isn't the only team in the NFL that needs guards. It is, however, the first one to reach out to Incognito. Here's a question: Which player, exactly, would be a bad idea for the Bucs? Anyone? If the Bucs want an offensive guard in the worst way, well, they've discovered the way.
Think about it. Why would the Bucs make this move if not to see how close Incognito is to being ready to play? They certainly don't need to ask him more questions about the bullying. They don't need to swap chili recipes. Unless a team is serious about absorbing the heat, why bring in Incognito at all?
In a lot of ways, the question of why is equaled only by why now. The Bucs are the verge of their season, and only now is it clear how much the team has disregarded its guards. Davin Joseph was cut, and Jeremy Zuttah was traded, and it has been clear for a while that Carl Nicks would be unable to come back. So now, just before the games start to count, Incognito is a good idea?
Granted, Smith could probably withstand the controversy better than a lot of coaches. As a man whose personal integrity is unchallenged, his endorsement of Incognito would make a bold statement. As an African-American coach, his backing of Incognito would help to diffuse the certain controversy.
But is Incognito worth the trouble? If that's the case, then why talk at all about players being the right kind of guys? Why pretend that character matters at all?
Frankly, the idea of Smith signing Incognito seems horribly out of place. Remember, this was the team that couldn't put up with receiver Mike Williams in the offseason. Compared to Incognito's resume, Williams was just a fun guy in a party hat.
You wonder, could there be an ulterior motive here? Might the Bucs be trying to drive the price down on another player on another team? For instance, it has been reported that the Bucs are interested in 49ers holdout guard Alex Boone. Could this be a way of hinting to the 49ers that the Bucs have an alternative? That way, maybe Boone is available for a fourth-round pick instead of a third?
There has to be some reason, doesn't there? Let's hope so. Let's hope the Bucs have another reason to pursue Incognito than to unload his considerable list of problems in their locker room.
This team doesn't need to bring Incognito in for a meeting to determine that.
After all, if the Bucs are really interested in being embraced, the first step is to be better than Richie Incognito.