OXFORD – AT Ole Miss football games, sometimes the main attraction is actually the secondary spectacle.
# 20 Ole Miss (1-0) returns to Vaught Hemingway Stadium on Saturday (6:30 p.m., ESPN +) for their home opener against Austin Peay (1-0), the first home game the Rebels will play at full capacity since 2019, ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. Saturday will also mark the first time The Grove has been open to tailgaters since November 16, 2019.
Often celebrated as one of America’s top destinations, The Grove’s return was a milestone in the city’s return to normalcy and was a top priority for Ole Miss herself.
“We understand at Ole Miss that people love The Grove,” Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter told the Clarion Ledger. “They are loving this three day weekend of Ole Miss football. Come Friday, do The Grove Saturday and have all of that stuff.”
Carter said Ole Miss would resume the Champions March through The Grove and into the stadium ahead of games, a first for coach Lane Kiffin, who is in his second season. Carter said some social distancing precautions might be needed to ensure Walk of Champions players are further removed from fans than normal years. But based on the data the university has received from scientists, Carter said The Grove, no matter how compact, can still perform as it normally does.
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To commemorate The Grove’s return, the Clarion Ledger asked Ole Miss fans to share their favorite tailgating memories with us. Here is a selection of stories from readers on what makes The Grove special to them.
Detour on the wedding day
My late husband and I got married at 10:00 am on October 19, 1974. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going on our honeymoon.
“Pack resort clothes,” but he said, “First, we’re going to the Ole Miss game. It’s Homecoming.”
I played with the joke and after the wedding I put on a cute “football outfit”. When we got to Batesville he cut off I-55. I asked “Where are you going?”
He replied: “At the game.”
I laughed and said, “No, really. “
He said, “Really!
Our friends had prepared a lot of food for our “reception” at The Grove and people had passed by and visited us. Like we do in The Grove !! So I tell people we had 50,000 people at our wedding reception! But I was totally and absolutely the most surprised person in the stadium that afternoon!
My late husband, George Garner, attended 52 Ole Miss / Mississippi State games. He only missed one – when he was in the army. He asked for leave but was refused! He said “If I had known I was going for the record, I would have passed AWOL!”
Oh yes, we also celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at The Grove. Champagne, loads of food, a wedding cake, all. Many, many, many friends have passed, including the governor. It was a great occasion.
The last game he was able to attend – the Ole Miss / Mississippi State game – was in 2003. In Starkville. One of his best friends was a huge fan of the state and gave us seats in a lodge for him to attend. Due to his health I rode him in the wheelchair match but damn he was there !!!
Wanda Clay Garner
A converted religious
I am from Massachusetts, I have no connection with Ole Miss. My son and I love college football, especially the SEC and The Grove was on a short must-see list. In 2009, we went to the Alabama game. We didn’t know anyone, literally didn’t know how to dress to park, etc.
We have met people who have come to be dear friends. Now we go for both football and baseball games and have traveled to Tennessee, LSU, Florida, Texas, Orlando, Nashville for a bowl game, Atlanta for a bowl game ( one that I would like to forget). As in religion, converts are the most devout.
Big business in Little Oxford
Five years ago I had a friend who made so much money sitting in The Grove all day in place of someone claiming it, so they could race for it. install Friday night for Saturday.
Ashley blake owens
They are called “squatters”. Fabulous memory!
Famous Mississippi Tamales?
When I lived in Memphis, I worked with a guy from San Antonio. His grandparents had come to America from Mexico years earlier, so he knew a thing or two about legitimate Mexican cuisine. I took him to The Grove for Eli Manning’s last home game and he was absolutely blown away by the quantity and quality of the hot tamales. “Dude, they’re better than my grandma’s! Why are there so many tamales on a Mississippi hatchback ????!” To which I replied, “Because Mississippi is special. Now let’s go get some kibbeh.”
Another culinary memory: my son was around 5 when he first discovered The Grove. When I wasn’t looking he went into a tent and started eating fried chicken. A tall, intimidating gentleman approached him and asked him who he was and did he think he could just waltz in here and start eating chicken. My son stood there scared. So the gentleman said, “You can come here anytime and eat my chicken, that’s how we do things here.” The state of hospitality indeed.
But my greatest memory goes back to when cars were allowed in The Grove. The massive trunk of my uncle’s Cadillac was wide open with food strewn about it, no fancy tables, no tents, no frills. Just a little boy who hung out with his dad and uncle and was amazed that a place like this existed. My dad and uncle are gone now, but they’re still with me in my soul, in The Grove.
New friends from new places
One of the distinctive features of The Grove being the varsity tailgating event horizon is meeting people from other parts of the country. On Saturday morning of the 2016 Alabama game, a guy pulled up by our tailgate and asked to borrow mugs explaining that they didn’t know all the rules on campus.
Since he was wearing an Ole Miss shirt, I asked where he was from. Turns out he and his friends were Ohio State Buckeyes fans and had us on their bucket list. They all wore Ole Miss gear, knew (singing Hotty Toddy), and could have passed as fans if we hadn’t asked.
I told them where to go and I told them when you’re exhausted – and you will – come back here and hang out. They did and spent the rest of the day saying that they had never experienced anything like this. Come on Buckeyes and Hotty Toddy!
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.