Uri Berliner, NPR
Ole Miss "cheerleader" fans rub elbows with LSU fans, the "Tiger Pimps," at the Grove before the big game.
Ole Miss "cheerleader" fans rub elbows with LSU fans, the "Tiger Pimps," at the Grove before the big game. Uri Berliner, NPR
Uri Berliner, NPR
Lanie, the Ole Miss Goat, in her cheerleader gear. The goat — wearing that outfit, plus pearls — is featured on refrigerator magnets with the Ole Miss football schedule.
Uri Berliner, NPR
Two hours before kickoff, people abandon their coolers and finger sandwiches at the Grove to pack in alongside a brick "Walk of Champions." There, they cheer on the Ole Miss players passing through on their way to the game.
Two hours before kickoff, people abandon their coolers and finger sandwiches at the Grove to pack in alongside a brick "Walk of Champions." There, they cheer on the Ole Miss players passing through on their way to the game. Uri Berliner, NPR
Sat., Nov. 17, morning and early afternoon
The Grove, the University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.
Tailgating is an honored and well-practiced ritual at SEC schools. Then there's the Grove at Ole Miss. The Grove is both a place and event, an occasion so steeped in tradition and legend that the word "tailgating" doesn't suffice.
On game days, the nine-acre grove of oak and magnolia trees turns into a huge sea of brightly colored, canopied tents. Under each one, there's a party that comes with a story.
You'll find tents with chandeliers above tables with floral centerpieces, set out by women in pearls and designer dresses. You'll find rowdies blasting Southern rock who've erected shrines to Elvis, a Mississippi native. Hard-core football fans come with satellite dishes and flat-screen TVs. Walk a few minutes and you can hear a jazz band or a Rebel yell. There are people connected through work, but more often through Ole Miss, family or both. The food is abundant, and so are the adult beverages, sipped from plastic cups or giant travel mugs.
The Grove gets started late Friday night, with folks vying for prime tent spots. Early Saturday morning, SUVs and cars packed to the brim inch along the Grove's perimeter, well below the campus speed limit of 18 miles per hour. Here's a hint of how seriously they take football in the SEC: That speed limit? It's in honor of Archie Manning, the beloved Ole Miss quarterback from the 1960s; he wore No. 18.
The Grove faithful come year after year, decade after decade. Linda Sue Bobo of Germantown, Tenn., is situated under a tree in her regular spot. Fifteen years ago, she says, the tree was a seedling. She has a school flag on her table from 1960. One of the corners is a bit ragged. "I assume it was a tight game, and my brother chewed off the edge," she says.
At the Grove, tradition rules, but some of the traditions are a bit off kilter. Walking along a pathway I encounter Lanie, a goat in a cheerleader outfit; she has been to the Grove for every Ole Miss home game for the past three years. Her owner, Melissa Lohrman of Ridgeland, Miss., says Lanie is quite popular. So much so that Lohrman made refrigerator magnets featuring the Ole Miss football schedule and a picture of Lanie wearing the cheerleader outfit and a string of pearls. "They say we're the goat of the SEC, so why not?"
One more Grove tradition: Two hours before kickoff, people abandon their coolers and their finger sandwiches to pack in alongside a brick "Walk of Champions" that cuts through The Grove. There, they cheer on the Ole Miss players and coaches who pass through on their way to the game. Most of the players are black; most of those cheering them on, white.