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At SEC Tourney, fans get into the act

March 7, 1997

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Call it the SEC strut.

It’s an attitude, a statement, a look that tells the world you’re the best. Kentucky and Arkansas fans have had it for years. South Carolina and Vanderbilt followers are learning it quickly.

``We identify with our teams more than a lot of fans, I guess,″ said 52-year-old Teresa Evans of Little Rock, Ark. ``And there’s no place better than the tournament to sort of strut you stuff. You know, put on the gear, get the attitude, and let the world adjust to you.″

The well dressed in Memphis this weekend wear plastic pigs on their heads, painted animal paws on their faces, slogans on their clothes and their hearts on their sleeves.

The uniforms the Southeastern Conference players wear are no more identifiable than those of their followers.

From bright orange, to purple and gold, to blue and white, to black and gold. Sartorial splendor and a kind of competitive camaraderie was the standard this week as packs of barking, grunting, chanting, singing fans displayed their team spirit.

``You have to let people know you’re a Wildcat and you’re proud,″ said Wilma Kelly, 67, of Paducah, Ky. ``You want to set yourself apart from the other teams because Kentucky is very special.″

Kelly and her husband, James, wore blue and white jackets and pants and shirts emblazoned with the picture of a snarling Wildcat. A silver Wildcat pin and several Kentucky buttons adorned her jacket, a Kentucky pendant dangled from the chain around her neck.

Bessie Boykin, 78, wore South Carolina colors and bought a Gamecock hat complete with giant yellow beak for the tournament. South Carolina’s first- ever SEC Eastern Division title inspired Boykin to attend the tournament.

``I’m here to help get South Carolina the respect it deserves,″ Boykin said. ``We beat Kentucky, so I have to rub it in just a tad. I’m too nice to really gloat, but we do sort of let people know who we are.″

People cruised around town in vans with horns that played choruses of ``Rocky Top″ and ``Hold That Tiger.″

In hotel lobbies cries of ``Soooo Piggy″ drowned out the barking of Georgia Bulldog fans and competed with Alabama’s shouts of ``Roll Tide.″

Even Vanderbilt fans, decked out in the school’s black and gold, got into the act.

``We’d never put an animal on our heads, or even paint ourselves,″ said Vandy fan Lynn Briley, 47, of Nashville. ``After all, we’re talking about Vanderbilt. We do shout, `Go Dores,′ though. In fact, lately we’ve been shouting it a lot.″

For much of the week, Commodore fans were shouting it while shaking gaudy gold pompons and dancing around maniacally.

About the only group that really didn’t get into the unrestrained festival was the Mississippi fans.

They cheered plenty, of course, although the traditional cheer of ``Hotty Toddy,″ which has a verse that goes ``flim flam, bim bam, we’re Ole Miss by damn,″ seemed unimpressive compared to chants of ``Tiger Bait.″ And decked out in their plain red shirts, hatless and without team jewelry or logos, the Old Miss group seemed downright restrained.

``We’re more a football school,″ said Richard Garrington, 28, of Jackson, Miss. ``Now that our basketball team is finally winning, we’ll get with it, though.″

They’d better, said Jean Bishop, 68, of Dover, Ark., whose tournament includes everything from the traditional plastic hog hat to Razorback-adorned clothing, jewelry, purse, fanny pack and even a $500 pair of boots with a wild red hog on all four sides.

``They need to establish an identity the way we have,″ Bishop said. ``The hog is ours and we love it. This isn’t the Ivy League. We like our teams to win, our mascots to be wild, and our people to be easy to spot.″

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