[ED: This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011]
The next post in the series encompasses what tailgating is like for us, the Cuppers. And what better to discuss when talking about Ole Miss football than to talk about the single biggest thing that drives fans to Oxford:
Football The Grove
Juco: Something that makes our tailgating special is the group of crazies who line up outside the grove, waiting for the fateful moment when one crazy is drunk enough to stumble into the road and scream "HOTTY TODDY!", immediately followed by hundreds of tent-toting lunatics who just have to get their spot for every game. In fact, getting that spot is so important to many people that they're willing to pay miniature "companies" to set up all their gameday materials for them. This is why my gameday experience is different from all the rest of the cuppers. I, along with a close friend, formed one of the aforementioned "companies" for six years at Ole Miss. Thus for those six years, tailgating was, in many ways, a chore. That aspect of football season was something that excited me financially, but I did not associate it with the type of rest or drunken debauchery attributed to tailgating by many of my other close friends.
You see, I was missing out on one of the biggest things that makes the Ole Miss experience special. I was missing out on The Grove. Sure, I would still tailgate the next day, but I didn't even have my own tent until my final semester of law school. Even then, I always found myself thinking of all the work it was going to take to pick up the 12 or so tents we had to get each weekend.
When I graduated, all of that changed. Ivory Tower, who was still in law school, set up the tents for our group. This meant that all I had to do was show up with delicious food, potent potables, and a few chairs. It is then that I finally realized just what The Grove is. It's a time when you can come together with friends you only see seven times a year, drink, socialize, and talk about football. It is, for all intents and purposes, the PERFECT way to prepare for an SEC football game. Some of the other posters will get into some of the specific things that make the Grove special, but I wanted to share my unique experience with tailgating there and emphasize that it's special simply because tailgating couldn't be done better.
Ghost of Jay Cutler: When people wax poetic over Ole Miss tailgating, people talk about the scenery of the Grove, the beauty of the Ole Miss co-eds, the gentility of the scene, the uniquity of the ritual, and the hospitality of the fans. Something which is, unfortunately, oftentimes overlooked for the more readily appealing aspects of the Grove is, however, the food.
Plenty of schools are known for great tailgating fare but, frankly, most tailgates anywhere can hardly be culinarily distinguished from one another. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, chips, dips, cold beer--all staples of the tailgater's diet. At Ole Miss, there are people who indulge in the classics but, for the most part, our revelers take a more genteel approach to pre- and postgame vittles.
Buckets of KFC are replaced with Chick Fil A or Abner's trays. Hamburgers and hotdogs are replaced with sausage balls and cheese plates. Chips and dip are replaced with cheese straws and french bread. Beer is replaced with wines, gins, whiskeys, and, umm, more beer.
And the setup is entirely different as well. Tailgates, the instruments for which the practice of football food and festivities is named, are nowhere to be seen in the Grove, as food is served upon tableclothed and decorated surfaces oftentimes sitting below precariously hung chandeliers. Entering some Grove tents is similar to entering an outdoor dining room, both visually and aurally. It is this unique approach to tailgating which has caused many to name the Grove as the single greatest tailgating spot in these here United States.
One Man to Beat's Date with Fame: One of the first tents I set up on my own was for the Ole Miss-Tennessee game in Oxford in 2004. I had family coming into town, and I had told them everything about the Grove(i.e. beautiful women, unlimited food/drink/hospitality, buzzing football atmosphere). While hustling out to the Grove the night before the game, I found a lonely spot near a collection of chairs but under the shade of a massive oak tree. I moved a few of the chairs to give myself more space when a gruff man told me to stop what I was doing. He said, "Don't you know who's chairs these are? The Mannings." I apologized, but I sure as hell wasn't about to move from that spot!
The next day, my family received their first Grove experience, complete with cameos from the first family of college football: Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, all in attendance for the game. There was a break in the NFL schedule coinciding with the game, and lo and behold, there we sat enjoying fried chicken away from three of the greatest QB arms in the history of football.
Ivory Tower: I know this is going to sound super-gay, but I appreciate the decorations. That's not my chauvinistic way of reminding you all about the hot chicks. I am seriously, actually talking about the way our women take time to spruce up our tents to make them feel like home. Sometimes it's just a table cloth and a few strategically places wicker baskets. Sometimes it's autumn produce with Col. Reb painted on it. And we've all heard tale of chandeliers and fine china. Whatever the accoutrement, our women take the natural surroundings of the Grove and turn that into disarming and hospitable buffet. It practically begs total strangers to walk up, say "hello," and grab something to eat or drink.
This is one of those things that truly differentiates Ole Miss pre-game from even LSU. While the Bayou Bengals might have tents, trees, and great food like we do, their tents are still just tents. Just like the tents at Auburn. Just like the tents in the Junction. Our women wouldn't be caught dead in their tents. Our women turn tents into homes.
I love the back bed of my truck as much as any Mississippi boy, but when it comes to creating a welcoming and easy environment, you can't do in a parking lot what our women can do in the Grove.
So what's your take on tailgating traditions? Do you have any of your own?