On my ankle I have a faded tattoo of Chief Wahoo. He is the perpetually

smiling mascot of the Cleveland Indians, a team I will love through thick

and thin.

In recent years, the Indians have been fortunate enough to consistently

make the playoffs, yet their success is not the reason I underwent 45

minutes of nagging pain and unpredicted sweat in a shady tattoo parlor

outside of Cleveland last summer.

Instead, the tattoo is a constant reminder to me of some of the happiest

moments of my youth.

As adolescents, my friends and I reveled in our ability to lie to our

parents about our daytime activities during the summer. While our parents

thought we were shagging fly balls at the local diamond or chasing girls at

the beach, we were oftentimes cruising through some of the more diverse

districts of town, meeting the lower socioeconomic group that shared

Cleveland's public transportation system and trying our best not to get

lost in the vast downtown area.

But, most importantly, we were going to baseball games.

The Indians were terrible, but that never dampened our adventurous spirit

and sometimes even made the trips more enjoyable. On weekends, the bleacher

seats sold for $1 -- yes, $1. And, as bad as the Tribe usually played, we

were often in box seats by the fifth inning. In fact, the stadium was often

so empty that purchasing beer, even at the tender age of 15, became a

common practice.

Yet, for as bad as the team was, we never booed or got down on our heroes.

Everyone of us copied Julio Franco's batting style and we all dreamed of

meeting Joe Carter or Cory Snyder one lucky day.

I have the tattoo to remind me of those days. When our lives were much

simpler and carefree, when I spent countless hours with my best friends

watching a team that almost always found a way to lose, when happiness

meant chasing a foul ball into the deserted stands.

But, we never booed.

This story brings me to what I think is a tragedy taking place here at the

University of Tennessee, fans booing the team.

Who are you people?

Please don't tell me that you are the same people who remained after the

Alabama game in '96 for nearly an hour honoring the victorious Vols. Please

don't tell me that you are the same people to whom I gave random hugs after

the '97 SEC Championship game in Downtown Atlanta. Please don't tell me

that you are the same people who have pieces of the goalposts from the

Florida victory last year.

You wear the Orange and White and call for Fulmer's canonization when the

team is doing well, but turn into cynical critics once hard times come

calling. What you do is entirely too easy and eons from respectable

behavior. In my opinion, you are nearly as repugnant as the folks who wear

their hats during the national anthem.

This may sound cliche, (in the world of college athletics everything sounds

cliche) but we are all Volunteers.

I have lived in this state less than four years, but I am as frustrated as

everyone else when the team fails to meet their potential. However, I will

never boo.

That's what Tennessee fans do not yet understand, that being a true fan

means being loyal. And that loyalty breeds from a healthy relationship

between fans and the team.

It may be hard for everyone here in Big Orange Country to understand, what

with the last five years being the most successful in the history of

Tennessee football, but for me it seems elementary.

You cheer for the team not because they are winning, but because they

represent something that you believe in or are part of. I cheered for the

Indians because I loved, and always will love, the city of Cleveland and

the feeling of a near-empty stadium on a summer day. I cheer for the Vols

because I too am a Volunteer.

And who knows, if the team loses a few along the way and they can only pack

70,000 into Neyland Stadium, someday I may put a "T" on my other

ankle.