No one can identify with any real confidence what will emerge as the top story of this brand-new Steelers training camp, but before it even got started Friday, one issue had already been laid to rest.
Literally and graphically laid to rest.
Now we know, from multiple unimpeachable sources, exactly how many groundhogs one monk can slay with one arrow from a crossbow.
I expect to see it in the next edition of the Official NFL Record and Fact Book under Records Set In 2013: Most Groundhogs, One Arrow, One Monk: Brother Tony of the Saint Vincent Archabbey.
More on this in a moment, as details are still coming in, but while Steelers fans who visit Latrobe on their annual summer pilgrimage might be concerned with the substantive football issues facing Mike Tomlin's seventh edition, no one should be going home with a twisted ankle from stepping in a hillside groundhog burrow.
Unless they're very unlucky.
As for the Steelers themselves in this camp, little beyond a groundhog-triggered injury is assured. Rolling eastbound along Route 30 toward Saint Vincent on the day Mick Jagger turned 70, I was somehow accompanied by some of the fresher Rolling Stones lyrics.
Allll I hear, is doooom and gloom.
This probably has nothing to do with anything, but it sure seemed to me that the businesses along the way were devoid of the typical Steelers-welcoming signs and message boards. One season at 8-8 and out of the playoffs and you're suddenly The Unforgiven? The absence of WELCOME BACK STEELERS and HERE WE GO! seemed to amplify the grim messages of the ever-present orange road signs:
Alll I hear is doooom and gloom.
Crash landed in a Loosiana Swamp,
Shot a horde o' Zombies
But I come out on top,
What's it all about?
Guess it just reflects my moooood.
Alll I hear is doooom and gloom.
Seriously, and I didn't have the radio on.
Sure, this is a Steelers team with no deep threat, no prominent running back, no stud quarterback still in his 20s, no obvious replacement for the traditional menace that was James Harrison, and no small amount of distress over the fact the Lombardi Trophy is in the possession of their fiercest AFC North rival, but it's not all gloom and doom, is it?
Tomlin, for example, told a couple of writers at lunch that he was about to start tweeting. This was something of a shock, even if he said five minutes before that he was planning to shock us with this announcement. You know you've been shocked when you nearly choke on your tater tots.
"Now I don't have to tell [the players] how to act on Twitter; I can show 'em," the coach said
And certainly no doom nor gloom from offensive tackle Mike Adams, who stopped rolling his bags toward Rooney Hall long enough to say the words.
You know the words.
"The expectations are for us to be a great team," he said. "We're getting ready to chase the Super Bowl."
There you have 'em: SUPER BOWL, the words arriving at 1:19 p.m., a scant 2 hours, 19 minutes after arrivals officially began. Adams has reason to be upbeat. No one has tried to steal his car or stab him since June 1. Tomlin said Adams has full medical clearance to work at right tackle.
It was clear as Tomlin spoke after a full-team conditioning run that he considers the challenge at hand no different than those that visit camp typically.
"I'd imagine if you compare this camp to others, you could make similar comparisons, historically speaking," Tomlin said in the first full news conference of camp. "You lose people and you replace them with capable draft picks; that's just this process. I don't think it's any different from that perspective. But obviously we've got some young, capable guys and they'll be given an opportunity."
That starts today, when campus opens and the first crowds of the summer take their places on the Saint Vincent hillsides, where a wet spring resulted in an unusual number of groundhogs burrowing into some of the best observational locales around the natural amphitheater.
That is what prompted the authorities to commission Brother Tony, who reportedly took to the hills with enthusiasm and in full camo.
Skunks, the common Saint Vincent nuisance once thought to flourish in part due to Chuck Noll's aversion to the shotgun, were given a reprieve, supposedly because skunks don't do the kind of severe excavation groundhogs do.
So when you ponder the crucial Steelers questions of the moment -- can they return to the playoffs and find the elusive stairway to seven? -- remember the surprising answer to the great precursor question of Training Camp 2013: Can a monk nail two groundhogs with one arrow?
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org.