The Grove: Many college football fans have heard of it. It's a place of legend.
If you ask around The Grove is either the first- or second-best place in the country to relax before taking in a football game.
With BYU’s complete lack of tailgating prowess, here is a run down a few traditions we learned from the fans of the University of Mississippi. A few fans that cheered on the Cougars on Sept. 3 told us a few things that made tailgating so great.
What is The Grove?
The Grove started becoming a tradition sometime in the 1950s. It's located in the center of the University of Mississippi. It's on about 10 acres of shade trees, and by Saturday morning it's packed full of tents.
People are allowed to surround The Grove on Friday night at 9 p.m., but fans can’t set up on their spot until the clock strikes 10 p.m., and then it gets a little wild.
However, many fans shared the fact that there’s an unwritten rule that seniority rules when it comes to spots, and the younger generation does its best to accommodate those fans spots who have been there for years.
One fan shared the fact that sometime Ole Miss fans rush The Grove when a group of fans can gather enough people with tents to overwhelm campus police and set up before 10 p.m. However, if they don’t get enough people to rush, campus police have been known to write a few tickets.
The atmosphere is probably not something one would expect.
The women are almost all in sun dresses and heels.
Not to be out done, the men dress the part as well. Many are in button down shirts, ties and slacks. As the weather gets cold, out come the sport coats.
It's taken fairly seriously, and though a few men had a pair of Khakis, almost all of them were wearing button-down shirts.
Speaking of dressing up, the tents boast a few of the finer things. It's not uncommon to see tents with 52-inch HDTV sets, satellite dishes and other comforts.
One BYU fan added his words to the posh tents:
“My visit to Oxford, Miss., was incredible. I have been to many college towns and campuses over the past 15 years or so following BYU football.
"You can ask yourself if you have ever been to a stadium where the opposing fans are requesting you to come under their tailgating tent, eat their food, and watch college football on their 55-inch HDTV? This happened in Oxford and more.
"My only regret from my trip to Ole Miss is that I didn't take my wife and kids. It would have been a great experience for them as well to learn what it means to be a fan and a fellow human being. The level of kindness, genuine interest in who we are, and hospitality, in my view, is unrivaled from anywhere else I've been to witness a college game, and, sadly, this includes BYU.”
The Walk of Champions is a tradition that goes down the middle of The Grove.
Before the game the Ole Miss team bus stops on the other side of The Grove and the football team and coaches to walk right down the middle of the party. Onlookers come right up to the players and wish them well as they make their way toward the stadium.
That same fan added this on the walk:
“The Walk of Champions was as cool as advertized. The tradition, the setting, and most of all the people were just incredible. If I wasn't going to another 'away' game this year, I'd be more than satisfied with my experience with the fans of Ole Miss. I learned quite a bit what it means to be a host and how to take a tough loss. If you get a chance to go to a game there, make it happen. You will be very happy you did.”
With the people being dressed up and the tents having the amenities of some starter homes, the food didn’t disappoint either.
One BYU asked if he could cut through one of the tents to get to the game, and found himself singing happy birthday to his new best Ole Miss friend Jerry. As he asked to cut through, Jerry asked him if he was hungry and if he wanted any cake. They ended up talking for most of the morning.
As the BYU finished up his portion of cake one Rebel fan asked, “I hear you Mormons are fond of Jell-O?”
“Yeah we’ve been known to eat more than our fair share.”
“I’ve got some Jell-O shots right here for you,” she stated.
“We’re quite fond of Jell-O, but it's what’s in the Jell-O we might have a problem with. Thanks, but we like ours with water.”
He bowed out gracefully.
One fan noted of the hospitality and the food:
“The only thing to exceed the sheer volume of fans in The Grove is their hospitality. I was meeting a couple friends at The Grove, and with all the people there, it seemed improbable.
"However, I was able to meet the first and then got on the phone to find the other. An Ole Miss fan noticed this and invited us to have a seat under his tent, have a drink and wait for him there as it was an easy location for people to find (being right next to the exit of the Walk of Champions path). They encouraged us to return to their tent right before the Walk of Champions to get a good view. This was the first of many fans to invite us in.
"My group of six couldn't take more than a few steps along the paths without somebody offering us food or drink (and in most cases both). We weren't talking boiled hot dogs either.
"The Grove featured delicious ribs, pulled pork, shrimp, catfish, chicken strips, and more. Food was displayed on silver platters served around center pieces. We even came across a couple chandeliers hanging from tents and carpets sprawled out. Many fans brought plenty of extra food to continually replenish dishes. It was obvious that the food prepared was not just for themselves, but also for all the many fans they might never see again.
"In addition to their willingness to share was a great sense of sportsmanship and goodwill. At no point did I hear a single word of trash talk or anti-Mormon sentiment.
"Even in the case where one tent had a sign "Free beer for BYU fans" someone was certain to remind us, we do have water and soda if you're thirsty.
"Fans were quick to compliment (BYU quarterback Jake) Heaps and that they expected a great game. One fan was especially complimentary stating how great it was to have a program like BYU come to Oxford saying, 'If we beat State (Mississippi State), its like, well yeah, of course we beat State. But if we beat BYU, it's like, Hey we beat BYU!' You guys have a great program.
A couple hours before kickoff, the Ole Miss football team commenced the Walk of Champions across The Grove, and our friends that invited us to wait with them made sure that we had a good spot right near the path to see the spectacle.”
As noted before the tradition of The Grove is longstanding.
A story was told to us that one group of fans had been coming to the same spot for 50 years. That’s right. The Grove has been so well attended that a larger portion just outside of The Grove is called The Circle. Four families started to tailgate at the circle back in the 1960s. Game after game the tradition continued. Now you can’t tell were the The Grove ends and the circle begins.
These same four families are now counting grand kids and great grand kids in attendance. The size of the portions have changed, but not the camaraderie. Good people that have ties with Ole’ Miss football and Saturdays spent as families.
With all this hospitality one has to wonder does anyone not get the red carpet treatment?
“Well,” said Jerry, the birthday boy, “we don’t ask LSU or Mississippi State fans to come back after the game. We don’t mind them coming before the game and getting to know them, but we try to not invite them back after the game. They just aren’t the kind of folk you like to see twice in one day.”
Well Cougar fans that’s how it's done in Oxford, Miss. People who understand that you can enjoy your football and still be good sports. In Ole Miss they have a saying, “We may not win all the games, but we never lose a party.”
No, you don’t.
Thanks Ole Miss for taking us into your tents and showing us just what good ‘ole southern hospitality is all about. You're a class act.