Nothing so represents the bravado of football than a team running out of the stadium tunnel to a pregame eruption of cheers or -- on the road -- boos and catcalls. It's a moment of machismo and chest pounding, as two groups of young men attempt to exude confidence and swagger under a scoreboard reading 0-0.
So just imagine what it was like for Colorado over the final third of the 2012 season.
The Buffaloes would sprint onto the field ... and ... and ... be a punchline. It was impossible for them not to know this. They'd take the field and know they were terrible and about to get pushed around.
Not exactly why an athlete dedicates so much time and sweat to an enterprise.
The Buffs ranked 120th -- last -- in the nation in scoring defense in 2012. They were 117th in scoring offense. They "led" the nation with a negative-28.17 scoring differential, despite playing four games decided by a touchdown or less, one of which was a loss to FSC Sacramento State.
This is the mess new coach Mike MacIntyre inherited. It will not fix itself overnight.
"It's a process -- daily," he said. "It's not waving a magic wand. It's an all-the-time thing."
Part of the reason MacIntyre was hired after Jon Embree was controversially fired after just two seasons -- albeit miserable ones -- is that he's coached a team wallowing in the mire before. He took over a San Jose State squad that went 2-10 in 2009 and, well, he went 1-12 in 2010.
But then he went 5-7. This past fall, the Spartans were one of the season's feel-good stories, going 11-2 and winning a bowl game, while only losing to Stanford and Utah State.
He has a blueprint for how to rebuild a program, though obviously he's in the Pac-12 now, where there won't be as many Texas-San Antonios, Texas States and New Mexico States propping up the win-loss record.
It starts with small goals -- weight lifting totals, body fat percentages and running times. Then it moves onto the field, as it will when spring practices start on March 7. The Buffs have a lot of questions, a lot to work on and a few supporters who believe much good is going to happen in 2013.
Ah, but that's where MacIntyre's blueprint comes in. He's going to bang a relentless drum of positivity, while trying to push a team to reach his expectations.
Positive, mind you, isn't soft. Nor is it easy. MacIntyre wants to convince his players that focus, intensity, attention to detail and the daily exhaustion their pursuit demands are a sweet nectar worth seeking at every moment. Or something like that.
"I think it's positive and firm at the same time," he said. "Some people think when you say, 'Positive,' that you're saying that we're just going to look at everything and be happy and everything is going to be OK. It's positive and firm. And what I mean by firm is if you're supposed to do it a certain way, you do it that way. You don't demean them. You keep pushing them. And all the sudden the light goes on."
While there are questions all over the field, including a lack of overall team speed and massive issues with the defensive front seven, quarterback will be front-and-center for most fans. MacIntyre will bring in a new pistol offense for what figures to be a wide-open competition.
Spring practices will be wrapped around spring break, so it basically works out to two sessions. MacIntyre said the first session will be basic in terms of implementing his offense. He wants to see what each of his six QBs has to offer. They will be evaluated during the break, and the coaches will make a depth chart, with the intention of narrowing the race to three candidates.
"Then we're going to let them compete the last half of spring," he said.
And the true freshman Sefo Liufau arrives in the fall to perhaps thicken the plot.
As for the rest of the team, MacIntyre makes no secret that he's a bit of a mad scientist in terms of evaluations. He'll see a guy playing receiver and say, "tight end." He'll see a tight end and go "offensive tackle." Or he'll switch defensive backs to receiver. And vice versa. He likes to move guys around, particularly when the switch improves the athleticism at the new position. For example, he already plans to move junior D.D. Goodson from running back to receiver this spring.
But, really, the new Xs and Os and present talent aren't going to make things easy. As MacIntyre said, there's no magic wand on hand. While a new coach typically brings an uptick in enthusiasm for a program, the reality is the nattering nabobs of negativism aren't going to say or write many nice things about the Buffs this offseason. MacIntyre's biggest challenge is rebuilding his team's confidence and psyche.
"We can let the outside affect us," he said. "But that's hard because they get bombarded when things aren't going as well."
The offseason question will be how much legitimate belief can MacIntyre instill in advance of Colorado running out of the tunnel on Aug. 31 against a Colorado State team that established for the Buffs a pitiful trajectory for the 2012 season.