Grove Article by The Fresno Bee


OXFORD, Miss. -- The Grove is a sea of red, blue and white canopies, under which Southern drawls welcome you. The guys wear collared shirts. Jeans are rare, dress shorts accepted. The gals -- plenty of 'em eye-catchers -- stride by in skirts and dresses with cowboy boots, sandals or heels.

The famed tailgate scene here on the Ole Miss campus is fueled by team spirit, home state pride and libations. Win or lose, it's filled. Win or lose, good times rule.

As they say around here: "We may not win the game, but we've never lost a party."

Ole Miss junior Adam Davis described the decades-old tradition as a "family reunion."

"It feels like you're comin' home and it feels like you know everybody," said the native of Olive Branch, Miss. "It's very comfortable, and everyone has food, and everyone's friendly and more than willing to welcome you even if they have no idea who you are. Everyone shares that connection because we're all here for the same thing: We all love this place.

"Half the people here don't even go to the game because they can't stand to leave The Grove."

Gerry Harlan and Scott Rodda are Fresno State fans from Clovis who have followed the Bulldogs to Wisconsin, Washington, Ohio State, Tennessee and other schools.

They summed up The Grove more succinctly: "It's the ultimate tailgate party."

Canopies and tents can be erected the night before gamedays at 10 p.m., but fans gather hours in advance to stake their claims on the 10-acre plot that's shaded by various kinds of trees. It's first-come, first-served, but if someone new takes the spot of older folk who have held the same spot for years, the place is often given up out of respect, Ole Miss junior Nelson Endt said.

Most fans go home, but a few stay overnight to get the party started early in the morning.

Such is the case for Darin Farley and his crew, who help form "Rebel Alley," a human tunnel the Rebels players walk through before they enter the stadium locker room. Farley said he and his friends camp on air mattresses and in their truck beds.

"We're a lil' ol' family down here," he said. And he treats visitors like it as well. He said he's fed police officers and openly greets fans of visiting teams.

Saturday was overcast and humid with a scattering of sprinkles. The ground -- some of it grass, some of it patches of slightly wet dirt, some of it hay to prevent mud -- wasn't ideal but it did not mire the atmosphere. The traditional Ole Miss chant arose from time to time:

Are you ready? Hell, yes! Damn, right!

Hotty toddy, gosh almighty

Who in the hell are we -- hey

Flim flam, bim bam

Ole Miss, by damn!

Like other tailgating scenes across the country, crock pots cooked as Rebels fans chatted and laughed. Kids threw footballs. A few confederate flags were on display. A 20-year-old fraternity member spoke with the scent of rum slipping from his gums. Flat screens and satellite dishes were set up to watch SEC foes Alabama and Arkansas clash.

But still the Fresno State fans in attendance saw something different.

"If you truly want to experience college football you have to travel to the East or to the South," said Rodda, who added he wishes Fresno State had open areas for "common folk" to tailgate.

Added Rodda's buddy Harlan: "It's a way of life back here."

The difference is the people, said Davis, an Ole Miss history major.

"There's so much history here, so much energy here that you don't get in other places," he said. "It's the people that give it that. It's the people that make it what it is. Ole Miss fans are cut from another cloth, a whole 'nother breed of fans. Some people say it's an SEC thing, some people say it's a Southern thing. It's just an Ole Miss thing."

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