Oxford takes the Tailgate
September 19, 2012
By Dan Daly
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I've been very privileged in my life to experience some great sporting events and amazing sports venues, but I have never seen or experienced anything like what I did on Saturday September 15, 2012. That was the day that I lost my "Grove" virginity in Oxford, Mississippi.
From the day they announced my alma mater was playing a home and home with Ole Miss, I, along with tens of thousands of other Longhorn fans circled this game as a must attend game. And it literally had nothing to do with the football game itself. This trip was strictly to experience a place that has been written about, talked about and hyped up for as long as I can remember. This trip was all about The Grove.
The Grove has plenty of girls and cocktails to go around. (Getty Images)
I know the unofficial school motto at Ole Miss, or at least I think it's unofficial, is "We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party" however I've learned in life that the reality very rarely lives up to the hype. So while excited, I was cautiously optimistic heading to The Grove. I've been to football games and tailgate's my whole life…I mean how much better could this one possibly be? They'll serve food and alcohol and have TV's set-up; can they really do it that much better than everyone else? The nicest fan base I had ever come across was the University of Nebraska until I spent a day in The Grove. Basically these people were the anti-Ohio State Buckeye fans, who are hands down the worst fans in the entire country. Literally Ole Miss Fans went out of their way to thank us for coming, wished us good luck in the game, told us to enjoy our time in The Grove, asked if there was anything they can do to help out and one fan even spent the better part of 30 minutes helping fix our TV satellite after someone accidentally ran into it. They take southern hospitality to a whole new level. I'm just really thankful we got there before the Aggies do on October 6th because they might not be quite as friendly to Texans after the Aggies leave town. You literally won't find a more contrasting fan base than the free spirited "Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty" fans at Ole Miss and the uber-aggressive sword yielding core fans of A&M. Anyway, I digress.
The short answer is…absolutely.
So what makes this 10 acres of organized chaos surrounded by oak, elm and magnolia trees set in the middle of the Ole Miss campus the most impressive "tailgate" I've ever seen?
Let me count the ways.
Ole Miss, where they redshirt Miss America's. The "talent level" at The Grove is second to none. They've got tall ones, short ones, blonde ones, brunettes, it simply doesn't matter, they are all drop-dead gorgeous. I'm from Texas, and we have some of the most beautiful women on the planet, but this was like walking around in Leonardo DiCaprio's dating recycling bin. I'm not sure of the exact application process to get into Ole Miss but if you are a female I'm pretty sure the SAT score section is replaced with your hotornot.com score and anything under a 9.5 is simply waitlisted. They are the Harvard of sorority row. Look, I could do an entire article on this topic alone but I'm married and want to keep it that way so I will just leave it at this, it's extremely shaded in the Grove…but I highly recommend sunglasses.
As for the set-up, seeing the sheer sophistication alone is worth the trip. These people take standard tailgate tents and turn them into 8'x10' luxury suites. Martha Stewart's house isn't set up as nice as some of the tents in The Grove. Literally the first tent I saw had two crystal chandeliers hanging from the roof. Flat screen HDTV's with football games on are a given. The food has the class and quality of a wedding reception with a menu fitting for a football game. Chicken tenders are served on silver platters, pulled pork sandwiches are BBQ restaurant quality and the alcohol flows like the Mississippi River. Some people simply pay catering companies to set-up their tents, and they are impressive, but the true Grove regulars take a certain pride in their set-up. It's not a competition per se, but they are definitely keeping score and if you beat your neighbor one week look for them to come out even bigger and better the next week.
I've never seen people show up dressed in their Sunday best for a football game before. Sure, I've seen nice outfits here and there across the SEC, but nothing like this. I'm talking slacks, button downs, bow ties, Topsiders, coats and ties for a majority of the guys there; while the ladies wear cocktail dresses and high heels. You haven't lived until you've seen a group of gorgeous 20 year-old drunk females in a cocktail dress appropriate for a wedding, standing in high heels, playing flip cup and then talking shit to the losing team. And then watch that same group of girls move on to what amounted to a death match game of Ole Miss Beanbag toss. If there is something more entertaining in the world than that sequence of events, I have yet to find it.
Honestly, at first I didn't understand the outfits at all, why would anyone get so dressed up to go to a football game? And then two things occurred to me, first, these people are simply forward thinkers. Personally I woke up Sunday morning in the same outfit that I wore to the Grove on Saturday; obviously based on alcohol consumption. I have to believe that this is an extremely common occurrence in Oxford, especially among the younger crowd. Thus they are simply able to sleep in a few more minutes and then go straight to church on Sunday already dressed…kind of brilliant actually. Second, and probably more importantly, they aren't there for the football game, they are there for the party. Half the people in The Grove don't even go to the game. When you wake up Saturday morning in Austin Texas you are getting ready for a football game. When you wake up Saturday morning in Oxford Mississippi you are getting ready for an outdoor cocktail party…that just happens to be next door to a football stadium.
And finally, the Ole Miss cheer heard throughout the grove:
Are you ready?
Hell, yes! Damn Right!
Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty
Who the hell are we, Hey!
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
OLE MISS BY DAMN!
I literally have no idea what that means and to be quite honest with you I don't think any Ole Miss fan does either, but what I would come to realize is, after spending a day in The Grove you wouldn't be able to write a coherent cheer either.
I am an extremely proud Texan, both of the state and my alma mater, but there was a button that I saw on multiple people that day that I desperately wanted. It read…
"It may be bigger in Texas, but it's better in The Grove."
Truer words have never been spoken.
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