Posted: October 31, 2013
Ole Miss “Groving”, or “footballing”, “tailgating”, or whatever you’d like to call it, is everything that is right in college football, college sports, and sports in general. Everything that is done in Oxford can be described as passionate and perfect; from social scene in the Square, to all activities that involve the Grove, to the fans and their love for their players, new and old, and traditions, to their athletic department whom each and every one are committed and dedicated to the experience beyond what I have ever witnessed. The comfort level within their facilities, to providing the top product across all sports; it’s unrivaled.
The tradition of The Grove, or Groving, is special beyond comparison to most any other in any sport. An 10 acre plush grassy area of thick oak, elm and magnolia trees, (what I want to call a forested grassy knoll), is a picturesque piece of scenery open to students during the week to write, study, walk, relax, but is transformed in the few minutes after 9pm Friday evenings into the pinnacle of tailgating environments.
Students, alumni, visiting school students, visiting fans, service companies, and spectators like us, run or drive at the speed of sound at the first evidence of that 9PM police siren into the Grove. They are carrying, dragging, pushing, and pulling enough items to furnish small homes. The rush is to claim a small piece of history, a small parcel of land, for just one fall Saturday.
At 8:59pm, the Grove remains a beautiful, tranquil, visual field of grass and trees. By 9:10, there are thousands of tents that have sprung up as land claims. By 9:30, the transformation is complete and you hear someone randomly scream, “Are You Ready?” To which everyone else replies “Hell yes! Damn right! Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty, who in the hell are we? Flim flam bim bam, Ole Miss by damn!”. The Grove has been transformed into “tailgate tent city” except these are not your ordinary “backyard tents.” They are colorful, uniquely shaped, personalized with family names, towns and cities, and historical stats. They are small, and then they are ginormous. And they transform this grassy acreage into “The Grove”. Have you ever tailgated off of real china? I have now. Have you ever been in the minority at a tailgate wearing jeans, a jersey, and sneakers? I have now. Have you ever been in a hotty toddy potty? I definitely have now. Christmas lights, lanterns, you name it. This is tailgating at a level that is just unexplainable. An amazing experience that after I experienced for the first time, shouldn’t be on your list as something you have to do just once in your life; you need to do it multiple times no doubt!!
I am truly amazed at how well these traditions have held up considering the ups and downs of the success of the program over the years and the lack of national championships or even conference championships. But it speaks volumes for the fans; their loyalty, and their commitment to cause, the long term goal, their love for the sport. It’s noteworthy and admirable. Each fan that I spoke to you could feel the pride in their voice. Their stories weren’t about last week, they were about tradition and history. Their stories weren’t about their own individual story, they were about “us” and “we”. This clearly isn’t a beer fest. And to say these people are nice is an understatement. I think they’d have let me taken their car out off campus if I asked, or even stayed in their homes. From the youngest students with absolute respect for their elders, to the elders who are genuinely interested in making sure the youth gets to have the same experiences they did and passing those traditions on. Remarkable. No arguments, no drunken brawls; remarkable. The glory of the Grove….it’s hard to describe on paper. All cleaned up the next morning, and back to tranquility.
A city, Oxford, the Square, is truly a remarkable place. I must have walked around the Square 10 times in a two hour period. Full of great restaurants and shops, more so with history and no corner CVS’s or Walgreens. It was perfect. Seemed like a place suspended in time, but modernized. Best of both worlds. It reminded me of Saratoga upstate New York, a small older town that transforms a few weeks a year but never loses its quaintness and history. A place you can see yourself living but you almost feel stepping into it fully would cause a Ray Bradbury “Metamorphosis” effect and thus throw off the perfect equilibrium and change it forever. I could live here but I’d be the one to step on the butterfly accidentally I’m sure.
An athletic department organization that is committed to the growth of the business, while maintaining all the unique traditions that make this place special, that’s what you have here. From the stadium and facility upgrades, to understanding the marketing and social aspect and appeal of their “product”. To the personal touches of their treatment of players, students, alumni, to even the advertised “one-time” visitors that we are or were; they want to make it impossible to leave. And they are succeeding. We heard high level 1, 3, 5, 10, and even 20 year plans for the school and its athletics, and they are good, they make sense, and they all revolve around keeping their athletes happy, their students happy, their alumni happy, their family happy. One new tradition that had been added last year was the homecoming Square Jam, essentially the introduction of the basketball season. Both female and male teams participate in a series of fun events on a basketball court that has been temporarily placed on the street in the Square. Dancing, 3 point contest, dunk contest. Could it be any better?
I was fortunate enough to see a very good Ole Miss Football team destroy the University of Idaho for its homecoming feast and witness the greatest that tailgating has to offer.
Great job Ole Miss. You’ve succeeded like very few others have. Very impressive experience for this visitor from the North. I can’t wait to get back to Oxford.
Al with some cheerleaders in The Grove