OXFORD, Miss. — The Grove, the tailgating, partying, pre-game festival of the universe, was a conglomeration Saturday of red and blue Ole Miss tents with a few University of Central Arkansas gathering places on a cathedral island.
Saturday afternoon, as folks gathered for food and drink, fellowship and football worship, there was a double-seated baby buggy under the purple and white UCA tent with a divided gene pool.
R.L. Jackson of Conway, an Ole Miss graduate, had on his blue logoed polo as he greeted UCA supporters with a smile. His wife, Ashley, a UCA graduate, had on purple. The couple’s daughters, Ava, Lola and Josie, had on tiny Ole Miss cheerleader outfits.
By mid-afternoon, they were sleepy and bored.
No one else was.
The Grove on gameday makes a bee hive appear lazy.
Folks here in hotty toddy land claim they’ve never lost a tailgate and never will.
The wooded area near the heart of campus is a festival on steroids.
The hospitality is wonderful. Community, from the Ole Miss community to the larger football community, is at its highest.
“Actually, I think it’s gotten a little bit out of hand,” said the nice older gentleman as he guided me through the maze of revelers. “Chandeliers, lights, buffets, menus, in some cases. It’s like a restaurant. We keep it simple. We come for the fellowship.”
Tailgating tents are set up on a first-come, first-serve basis. College students can earn $200 for setting up and taking down various tailgates. The fans just have to show up.
But it’s a race. At midnight, the Grove is opened up and folks scramble to claim their spots. Think Oklahoma land rush without the schooners.
Students in The Grove used to dress to the nines, originating from the Southern tradition of supporters donning high fashion to watch their heroes in battles. “The Grove best” has gradually gone the way of “Sunday best.” It’s slightly more casual. You’ll see plenty of heels but the females dress more for comfort. Frilly dresses with cowboy boots seemed to be a popular style. White shirts, ties and shorts seem to be in style for the males.
Comfort was the style Saturday.
On a sunny afternoon on the heels of Hurricane Isaac, folks felt swamp-like conditions.
The Grove was in a jungle in more ways than one
Who’d of thought you could work up such a sweat tailgating? You could in a few minutes.
The more populated it became the steamier it was.
Youngsters tossed footballs and played on makeshift openings between the trees. At least one had on a Manning jersey.
Others kids did tamer things, like searching for acorns under the trees and putting them in baskets, like an Easter egg hunt.
Even with a team that many supporters didn’t expect to be SEC elite level, this is college football atmosphere at its best. Even it sapping humidity, this is the magnetic attraction of bigtime college football.
“Bruce, you have a girlfriend?” one friend asked a companion as they entered The Grove with tailgate chairs.
“You want to find one?” said the friend.
Such is The Grove, rich in food, fun, fellowship — and a potential harvest.
(Sports columnist David MCCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)