The best any visitor can hope for when visiting Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is to get a split. Ole Miss may lose the game, but the Rebels aren't losing the party.
Various reports say there were 10,000 or more Texas fans invading Oxford and I accounted for one of them. I grew up not too, too far from Oxford and actually saw Manning play there in person . . . Archie, not Eli. But it had been more than 20 years since my last trip and I was shocked at the evolution. In the 80s, tailgating on campus consisted of pickup trucks sprawled about for some picnicking. However, a heavy rain and a cancer patient changed everything so that now, an aerial view of the Grove looks like a giant quilt with trees growing through it.
The picture below shows exactly what the Grove looks like if you're standing there with a sheet of wax paper in front of your face. What I'd hoped to capture was how tents were bunched together across from where I was standing. However, my strong suit is second-guessing and hyperbole, not photography.
I have enjoyed tailgating at a number of venues in the Southeast. But here’s what caught my eye about a tailgating experience ranked either first or second on any list you can find:
- Density – Unless your 12x12 tent abuts one of the designated walkways, there’s a good chance it will be surrounded on all sides by other tents. A friend had been given a map for the tent of the "Dallas Rebels" club. In order to get to its alleged location, he trudged through a number of other people’s tents to get there only to find the Dallas Rebels weren’t anywhere in that neighborhood. The best way to describe the density of tents is think of a Calcutta marketplace, except instead of sweaty, smelly street vendors, there are beautiful young women in sundresses.
- Wardrobe - Speaking of beautiful young women in sundresses, you will see them at all SEC venues. But two things separate Ole Miss. First, the percentage in sundresses was much, much higher than other places I’ve visited recently (Georgia, Auburn). Second, despite a large amount of bare shoulders, necks, arms, and lower legs, I didn’t see a single tattoo. I’m not sure if that shows a disdain for ink or merely discretion of placement. Or that I need my eyes checked.
- Décor – Chandeliers, candelabras, etc., etc. Everything was as advertised here.
- Ambience – Everyone I encountered in Oxford was incredibly gracious. Before attributing that to southern hospitality, my experience has taught me that's not the case everywhere in the Southeast. It's just that Ole Miss has gotten so used to losing so that win or lose there will be a victory party. (Florida was like this before Steve Spurrier got there in the 90s.) At Ole Miss, relevance pretty much ended with integration and Johnny Vaught’s retirement. Ask an Ole Miss old timer about the good ol' days and even William Faulkner would urge them to "get to the point." When Vaught was in charge, the Rebels got their pick of in-state recruits as he had all the high school coaches in his pocket. Vaught's coaching camps were very popular and the result was that just about every school in state ran the Rebels' offensive and defensive schemes. However, once the SEC integrated, several traditions (Rebel flags, Dixie and Colonel Rebel) bit the Rebs in the butt. Steve Sloan, Tommy Tuberville, Ed Orgeron, David Cutcliffe and Houston Nutt are among the cast that has never quite righted the Ole Miss recruiting ship.
Frankly, having been to a handful of games in Oxford before the Grove evolved, I was blown away at what it’s become. All I can say, is at least we got the split.