Carnett: South takes college sports seriously

September 16, 2013|By Jim Carnett

I'm a collector of college and university sweatshirts.

I've accumulated a few: North Carolina, NC State, Tennessee, Michigan, Duke, Ohio State, Miami, Auburn, West Point and Virginia.

I like to wear them on my daily constitutionals.

One breezy spring-break afternoon, I wore my orange University of Tennessee sweatshirt as I walked the beach at Shell Island, in Wilmington, N.C. I strolled past a large crowd of people sitting in the sand near the pier, but paid no particular attention to them.

Suddenly, there was a burst of excitement from the crowd — a flurry born of sudden discovery. I scarcely noticed, so focused was I on my exercise regimen. I was into the sounds of my repetitive breathing, the crashing of waves upon the shore and the keening of gulls.


The crowd to my left broke into a chant: "Go Vols! Go Vols! Go Vols!"

I paid no attention and continued walking. This wasn't about me.

The clamor grew louder.

"Go Vols! Go Vols! Go Vols!"

Suddenly, I had a mortifying thought. Which sweatshirt had I grabbed that afternoon from my suitcase? I kept walking, but glanced down to ascertain the color. Orange.

Omigosh! The orange of the Vols!

Emblazoned across my chest were huge letters: T-E-N-N-E-S-S-E-E, as in the UT Volunteers.

The beach crowd — now whipped into a lather — was yelling at me, the clueless dude sauntering down the beach wearing their colors! They were 465 miles from home on spring break in North Carolina and trying to give a shout-out to a fellow Vol.

Except that I wasn't one of them. In fact, I was on the verge of deeply offending them.

Sheepishly, I turned toward the frothing mob, gave a little fist pump and squeaked, "Yea, Tennessee."

Southerners treasure their college allegiances. What the Shell Island crowd couldn't know was that I'd been to their campus exactly once — to buy a hoodie. Vols, schmols, I was a poseur in an orange shirt.

SEC (Southeastern Conference) football fans are lunatics. Truly! They're big, loud and proud, and they have every right to be. They've won the last seven national championships.

But most Southerners are like that. They take pride in their teams, and they notice what you're wearing.

In California, you can wear a University of Neptune sweatshirt and no one will pitch a fit or cast an aspersion. Not so in the South.

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