Eleven or twelve years ago, I knew what the hell I was doing.
I lived in the same town I grew up in, rooting for the same college and pro teams. I had the clothes, knew which radio stations carried which games, and even while traveling around didn't have to miss a game except by choice.
It wasn't a bad life, but of course it changed. My new bride didn't like my town, or my suggestions of much larger, NFL and MLB-equipped, cities. We wound up in a nice place—I like the weather and the scenery, but these people, and their colors, are different.
My wardrobe was, and for a large part remains, primarily the colors of my alma mater and the pro teams I grew up with: Colors that do not fit here. Colors that do not match here. Colors that, quite frankly, are harder to find here. Colors that are not orange.
I am now a resident of Knoxville, Tennessee. The people are nice, the weather is fine—there are so many worse places to be.
But, so help me, these people are orange. Also, their buildings are orange. They drive orange cars. The playgrounds are overrun with children that, from a distance, resemble oompa-loompas.
Orange, for me, was your breakfast drink, the color of plastic barrels and warning signs on an interstate under construction, prison inmates on TV, the long extension cord that went to the weed whacker. Orange only really got out of hand on Halloween.
After living here for a dozen years, the orange just becomes part of the background, like the grass or the sky or the potholes anywhere else. Yet, when you look with a will, it can be overwhelming.
Businesses, at least the successful ones, are drenched in orange paint. TV ads, the newspaper, orange frosting on cakes at the grocery store—it's just everywhere. Even the sign in the men's room admonishing cleanliness has an orange background hue.
Prison escapees from other states wouldn't need to change clothes before walking the streets here. To non-residents, the entire city is the big house. The all-over-orange jumpsuit-wearing escapee here is just another Vol going about his business, just like everyone else.
I am the one who is different. I am the one who is not fitting in, with white cars and blue shirts and red hats.
Why do I still resist? After all, this football team, the colors of which I find so different, is better by far than my alma mater and its in-state rivals. The combined win totals of all of the teams of my native state wouldn't add up to a subpar season for this bunch. They're winners. They get it done.
I grew up to the alcoholic solace of hard losses dealt out by the much stronger teams like Tennessee. I can drink like these people can win, but which is the better skill?
I have to work some football Saturdays, and I am known for my score updates over the PA system of a game that only one person in the building cared about while wearing my red jersey and playing Dixie on my iPod. They just smile indulgently, as if I just don't get it. It could be worse, I'm told: I could be a Florida fan, which is not allowed under any circumstances.
My children, of course, know nothing different. They wear their orange t-shirts with pride on Friday, like everyone else in the class, and my son can sing two verses of Rocky Top and idolizes Peyton Manning, who was out of college football before my son was even in this world.
My daughter draws the UT logos in chalk on my driveway—the driveway that holds my white car with its out-of-state, more expensive, collegiate license plate. They belong, even if I, by my own choice, do not.
Why do I persist with ESPN Game Plan, Internet radio, and the same losing tradition? It's true that Peyton would not have existed without Archie, but even the Mannings live in New Orleans now.
Is it so wrong, such a betrayal, to finally win? To blindly expect to win, the way my neighbors do? To toast another SEC victory, rather than drown another SEC loss? What's wrong with that? I do, after all, live here now.
I can see it coming, though. Over the years, I began to not just bet on the SEC teams from my home state, but on the entire SEC. I've learned how to bet on Tennessee, with very good results. (Fulmer never, ever beats the spread.) I told myself that I wasn't abandoning my team and my state, just broadening my betting horizons.
Last season, I began listening to the Tennessee games live on the radio. After all, I was betting on them, and I could get that game easily on the radio without Internet trickery or a fatter cable bill. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, you have to listen to the game to be able to discuss it intelligently, right?
The crown of all was a recent shopping trip we took to Atlanta. There, in a sporting goods store I frequent because of its large (read: existent) selection of items from my alma mater, was a display of shirts in several colors on clearance. I selected red, blue, white, and finally, orange.
I haven't worn the orange shirt yet. The next time the neighbors invite us over to watch the Tennessee game on TV, though, they're going to get the shock of their lives. I'll be assimilated in my orange polo. I'll still be whistling Dixie, though.