By Garland Patterson
Each fall thousands of football faithfuls return to the “spot that ever calls” for a tailgating experience that is unmatched.
For years, the saying “We don’t always win the game, but we never lose a party” has become a sort of mantra for the thousands of Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue clad fans that flock to Oxford each fall. Printed on stadium cups, dish towels, and stickers that cover co-eds as they wander through the Square, the saying is one that eased the pain (and supplied the Maker’s) during particularly disappointing seasons in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and stifled the blow when fan’s dreams of the College Football Playoffs were dashed. What was once a passing joke used to condone the town’s tendency to party until dawn has become grounds for bragging rights across the Southeast.
The epicenter of Oxford’s good-timing traditions winds itself along 10 acres of pristine green. The late summer sun streams through the leaves of towering magnolia and oak trees, glistening on the foreheads of sorority sisters who frantically dab away any trace of perspiration. The Grove waits quietly for their return each week, decorated with blue and red trash cans used as landmarks during excited phone chatter. However, it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, tents did not begin to pop up in Oxford until the mid-nineties when revelers abandoned the tailgates of pickup trucks for a picnic style pre-game that needed a solution to the Mississippi sun’s relentless rays. Born out of necessity, the trend quickly caught on and soon enough the University of Mississippi became a tailgating mecca.
Winning the right to call Oxford home to the “Best Tailgate in the Nation” year in and year out, the Grove has staked its claim in publications across the country. Contrary to popular opinion, not much has changed in my 21 years of “groving.” Seemingly endless green fields used for studying and throwing frisbees during the school week are transformed almost overnight to the university’s living room. A sea of red and blue, the thousands of tents that dot the landscape are a far cry from generic tents propped next to pick-up trucks. Ole Miss faithfuls begin their set-up late Friday night with a mad dash to claim what has undoubtedly become “their spot” over decades of unwavering attendance; I can give you the exact coordinates of my tent, standing faithfully in its spot since I wandered between the oaks in my miniature cheerleading uniform. During the twelve hours to follow, chandeliers are hung and signs are raised as hay crunches underneath worn work boots. When morning comes, caterers are hauling gleaming aluminum pans of southern delicacies to their patrons as others wheel coolers, stocked with libations for the masses, to their respective destinations. Men in freshly shined cowboy boots and Oxford shirts follow alongside women in sundresses carrying flowers arrangements and plates of deviled eggs as the final preparations are made for the day to come. Often compared to a ten-acre cocktail party, a day in the Grove boasts everything from expansive Bloody Mary bars to live sing-a-longs of Dixie with red solo cups splashing about in chest-high hands. Like clockwork, the Pride of the South plays and the team marches down the Walk of Champions, met with handshakes and raucous cheers as red pom-poms shake furiously.
It is familiar and it is sacred to those that find themselves back year in and year out. With the season not far off there is an air of uncertainty, not unfamiliar from years past, that floats around the Velvet Ditch. Come September, Highway 6 will fill with cars bound for their beloved home and nervous chatter will fill the air as kickoff is anxiously awaited. But for now, we have a party to win.
Garland Patterson is a senior at the University of Mississippi majoring in integrated marketing and communications with a minor in Southern studies.