I'm not sure where I've ended up, but it definitely doesn't feel like home.
Home is snow in mid-September, not sweating through two T-shirts per day.
Home is (maybe) 13,000 fans stumbling into War-Memorial Stadium, not 109,000 cramming into Neyland.
When I signed up for the National Student Exchange at my home school of Wyoming - for those of you who thought it was merely an old western myth, it's the state just north of Colorado - I had every intention of seeing what life as a sportswriter was like at a major institution.
After two months at The Daily Beacon, my assessment so far can be summed up in one word: bizarre.
Nothing could have prepared me for the cult of Vol fans who were to become my audience. In Laramie, my work is (presumably) read in the Branding Iron by a devoted fan base, but the Cowboy Joe Club will never be confused with the Orange Nation.
Cowboy fans don't drink merely as a tailgating activity. They drink so they won't remember being at the game.
A UT fan who has only been to contests in Knoxville or around the SEC can't even begin to fathom the game day experience in Laramie. Take away a few thousand people from Vanderbilt and subtract talented teams coming into town - "Who's ready for homecoming against the Citadel?" - and you might get a handle on the lonely experience of Cowboy football.
Also, you need to add three home games in blizzard-like conditions late in a losing season. There's nothing like November in Laramie to get the casual UW fan out to watch a team that finished 4-8.
But in Knoxville, there seems to be no such thing as a casual fan. Everywhere you go at UT - or anywhere in Knoxville for that matter - there are dozens of individuals who know the entire football depth chart front to back. My sister, a UW sophomore, couldn't even tell you how many mascots her school has.
She's a prime example of the difference between my two schools. While a wonderful, intelligent human being - did I get that right, Alyssa? - she typifies the stereotypical sorority girl in Laramie.
She attends the football games (sometimes), but she isn't apt to stay for more than 25 minutes. The females at UT, I have found, arrive in the stadium before kickoff and keep singing "Rocky Top" until the stadium closes.
Alyssa Ward couldn't care less about whether Corey Bramlet or J.J. Raterink starts under center for the Pokes. But earlier this season, I walked behind two UT women with Greek letters on their shirts who were discussing - scratch that, arguing - over who the starting signal caller should be for the Vols.
Momentarily dazed, I forgot who covered the UT football team for the school paper, and I began a conversation with my roommate about designer purses.
But that's the beauty of this school for an aspiring sports journalist. I have no choice but to work hard and deliver timely sports coverage - the Orange congreNation demands it of me.
I came to Knoxville to improve my skills as a sportswriter, and I have 26,000 diehards on this campus who make sure I do.
But seriously, have you seen those new Dooney & Bourke handbags?
- Austin Ward is a junior in journalism . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vol fans far cry from Pokes
Published: Thu Oct 21, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:29 p.m.