After experiencing an Ole Miss football game for the first time, I get it now
OXFORD, Miss. — Somewhere between the pickle martini at Bouré and the 10th Hoddy Toddy chant I witnessed in The Grove, it hit me.
I get it now.
I now understand why experiencing a weekend in a place like Oxford is considered a bucket list item for college football fans. It didn’t matter that Ole Miss was facing Alabama, or that the Rebels’ postseason ban put a cap on fan expectations. The atmosphere all weekend was still top-notch. Well, at least until Tua Tagovailoa killed the home crowd buzz with one dazzling throw after another.
Make no mistake. I made my first trip to Oxford in part to see the defending national champions and their transcendent quarterback.
But along with a couple of SDS co-workers, we wanted to experience a full college football weekend at a place that none of us had been to. We wanted to take in a Friday night on The Square, experience The Grove and immerse ourselves in the Ole Miss culture.
Unlike most of the people I was surrounded by, I didn’t grow up in the heart of the SEC. As a college student in the Midwest, I couldn’t just hop in my car and drive a couple hours to an SEC game. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to plenty of impressive tailgates and I’ve seen some incredible college venues, but my visions of The Grove was Katy Perry waving a corndog on College GameDay.
Now it’s Ole Miss chandeliers and tents as far as my eyes could see:
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 15, 2018
That picture doesn’t even do it justice. The amount of tents and people is staggering. I walked through The Grove when it was virtually empty and when it was loaded with tens of thousands of people. I couldn’t believe the tailgating dedication of some of the tents we saw.
From catered fried chicken platters from Zaxby’s to homemade Ole Miss-themed sugar cookies, the food obviously wasn’t lacking.
If you weren’t trying to avoid walking into the sea of people, you were watching out for generators parked on the sides of tents. I mean, what are you going to do for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff? Not watch all of the SEC action on TV all afternoon with rows of chairs set up for people to hang out like they’re in someone’s living room? That’d be foolish.
What was foolish was me thinking that there would be enough space for typical tailgate games like Cornhole. There’s no room for that in The Grove. There’s too much eating/drinking/Hoddy Toddy chanting to be done for that.
And I’ll say this: I was expecting to see a pretty decent split of Alabama fans to Ole Miss fans. Based on the amount of baby blue I saw all weekend, I can confirm that it was indeed still a home crowd. Seriously, though. So. Much. Baby. Blue. Ole Miss fans know how to stick to a game day wardrobe theme like few I’ve seen (except for stinkin’ Landshark Tony).
Shoot, I even saw countless baby blue Ole Miss polos when we hit The Square on Friday night. You know, when I looked up in between bites of friend okra and swigs of that pickle martini (that was, um, interesting).
With flocks of people on the second-floor, plantation-style decks, The Square almost felt like a college version of Bourbon Street, minus the beads. A drunken out-of-town guest could have been convinced that they were in the heart of New Orleans. There were countless places I would have liked to experience based on how they looked from the outside, though the one-in, one-out policy prevented that from happening (our Uber driver told us about some speakeasy-type bar that serves grilled cheese from a back alley).
Oh, speaking of that.
WHERE ARE ALL THE UBER DRIVERS IN OXFORD?!
Is there some sort of Lyft monopoly? Shoot, even finding a couple of cab companies was harder than an Ole Miss defender trying to tackle an Alabama ball-carrier. Goodness gracious. Thoughts and prayers to those of you who have to deal with that transportation situation on a regular basis.
But to be honest, that was really the only complaint I had about Oxford.
I can now totally see how a high school student could experience a fall weekend there and want to sign up for classes the next day. While I loved my 4 years of college, I found myself wanting to go back in time to my freshman year so that I could hit every bar on The Square and take in each Saturday in The Grove.
I even just wish I was a short drive from Oxford so that I could pretend to be an Ole Miss fan with a decked-out tent to host tailgates in. Even if it meant letting a bunch of muddy college shoes stomp on my coolers so that Rebel fans could belt out another Hoddy Toddy chant or spend all day/night preparing for Saturday’s festivities in the Grove, it’d be worth it.
For those of you like myself who seldom get opportunities to do anything more than arrive at a game and maybe hit up a local restaurant, I encourage you to make a weekend of it. I realize I’m preaching to the minority based on how many people were out in Oxford.
This weekend reminded me of how I need to do a better job of that. Lord knows I’ve got plenty of college football experiences left on my bucket list. I was happy to cross one off the list after leaving Oxford.
I get it now.
Well, I still don’t get the pickle martini.