I'm a collector of college and university sweatshirts.
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.
I once walked into a Raleigh, N.C., plumbing supply store absentmindedly wearing a University of Virginia shirt. You must realize that the "home" teams in Raleigh are NC State, North Carolina and Duke. Not UVA. The Virginia campus is 225 miles away but, to Carolinians, it might as well be on the backside of Neptune.
You wear someone else's colors in town and you'll hear about it.
I'd picked up the shirt in UVA's student bookstore in Charlottesville. I'm not a Virginia fan, but I like the colors — orange and blue. Simple as that.
I walked to the counter of the plumbing supply store, and the gentleman looked at me and shook his head.
"Ya'll cain't expect to shop here dressed in that ugly thing," he cracked. I couldn't tell if he was riled or pulling my leg.
I went into an instant prevent defense.
"Oh," I croaked. "I'm not a Virginia fan, I just like their colors. I'm actually from California where no one roots for any local team. Everybody in California is from somewhere else."
That, rather circuitously, brings me to my point: What ticks me off most about God's country is going to an Angels-Red Sox game in Anaheim and having more folks there from Newton, Quincy and Dorchester than from Tustin, Costa Mesa and Fullerton.
Or going to the Rose Bowl and having Wisconsinites and their Winnebagos outnumber West Coasters 2 to 1.
Or going to a Rams game and having more people from St. Louis … oops, guess that's not a good example.
We Californians could take a lesson from folks from the South — and from Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Be true to your school!
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.