With Oxford preparing for a Texas invasion, I spent some time talking to The Ghost of Jay Cutler, lead blogger at Red Cup Rebellion, SB Nation's excellent Ole Miss blog. In Part 1 of our conversation, RCR briefs Texas fans on Oxford, tailgating at the Grove, and the likelihood of anyone being sober by the time Saturday's game kicks off at 9:15 pm ET.
PB: Texas fans have been looking forward to this road trip since this game was first announced. Although the Horns and Rebels have met up on the field six times, this will actually mark the first time that Texas has played in Oxford. So let's start there, if you don't mind. I think most fans know what the Grove is, and have a general understanding that is supposed to be tailgating nirvana, but give Texas fans some details to fill in the picture. Why is it special, as opposed to just a great place to tailgate? And what are your favorite aspects of game day in Oxford, both at and outside of the Grove? If you were a Texas fan, how would you spend your Saturday?
RCR: Here's something neat. USA Today has both Oxford and Austin listed as some of America's best college football towns. So huzzah and drinks all around this weekend.
As for the Grove... well, where to begin? And how to keep it pithy?
I think the best way to explain the idea of the Grove is to expound a bit on its history. The Grove itself is, simply put, a central area of the Ole Miss campus which has remained undeveloped. I have no idea if this was intentional or not, but since no structure has ever stood on the grounds of the Grove, it is about ten acres of wooded land, with many of the trees in the Grove predating the university itself. During a regular day of classes, the Grove is a place where students may read or eat lunch or throw a frisbee around, so in that sense it's similar to most university quads in its function.
Granted, it's hardly a quadrangle, and most quads aren't shaded by towering oaks, but you get what I'm saying.
People began tailgating there probably when the whole idea of tailgating in the first place came about, but at that point the tailgating in the Grove was of the traditional variety. The Grove was used as an ad hoc parking lot for Ole Miss football games for a few decades, and it was there that people would, you know, tailgate. It wasn't until the early 90's that the university, in what I presume was an effort to maintain the Grove's grass and trees, forbade parking there.
Tailgating, though, was not forbidden, and since people were so accustomed to tailgating in the Grove, and since the Grove is not much of a walk from the Stadium anyway, people continued to set up there. Since they could not have their cars though, people had to bring enough food, drinks, and general amenities to last them the day, lest they choose to drunkenly march to and from whatever parking lot they wound up in after setting up. That is really how the Grove took off, because at that point people began creating these elaborate tent set ups, complete with decorations, satellite dishes hooked to flat screens, and even live music in a few cases. A friend of mine has a huge tailgate set up complete with an Elvis impersonator. It's incredibly entertaining.
The tents are set up literally right next to each other, so on any given Saturday there can be 50-60K people in the Grove itself.
But what really makes the Grove different from other tailgates is the faux gentility of it all. Ole Miss fans aren't the types to wear jerseys or t-shirts to football games. Sure, plenty do, but most prefer something more closely resembling what one would wear to a golf or tennis club, but appropriately colored and logoed. For example, a guy might wear khakis and a red polo shirt, and complete the look with an Ole Miss cap. A gal might wear a red sundress with an appropriate "[SORORITY] loves Ole Miss!" sticker over hear heart. Fraternity pledges are almost all required to wear a coat and a tie. Generally speaking, if one were to wear more "mainstream" football fan garb to the Grove, they'd probably feel out of place.
It's not just the clothing though. People don't generally drink Natty Lite out of the can; they drink Maker's Mark out of an actual drinking vessel. People don't eat bratwursts and potato salad; they eat Southern hors d'oeuvres, fried chicken tenders and pulled pork. People don't socialize over a game of cornhole; they just socialize.
That isn't to say that those things are nonexistent in the Grove, but they're not as prevalent as they would be elsewhere.
In that sense, the Grove feels more like a gigantic cocktail party or an outdoor wedding reception than a tailgate. Folks are wearing nicer clothes, they're sipping higher-end booze, they're gossiping, and, oh yeah, they're getting ready for that whole football thing.
Outside of the Grove though, Oxford is a pretty fun place to be for a game weekend. The Square, which is a simpler way of saying "downtown Oxford, Mississippi" has a handful of great bars and restaurants, all of which will likely be unbearably packed this weekend (meaning that I'll probably avoid them altogether). If you are willing to suffer through the one-in-one-out lines, cover charges, and wait times to get a drink, plenty of places are worth your while.
If I were a Texas fan, though, my best advice would be to just enjoy yourself in the Grove. Ole Miss fans are typically amicable to anyone who does not pledge allegiance to Mississippi State or LSU, so Texas fans will not feel wholly unwelcome on campus. In fact, plenty of people will go out of their way to offer food and drinks to Texas fans they see this weekend. Mississippi is known as "the Hospitality State," and some people take that reputation pretty seriously. While I'm on it, Peter, are you going to be in town? It turns out I will be, so if you are and would like to have a drink or ten at my tailgate let me know.
While in the Grove, a good Texas fan will make sure to take in a few sights and sounds. The Walk of Champions, a brick walkway from the Student Union to the stadium, the construction of which was paid for by the 1963 SEC Championship team (hence the name), is a cool sight to see. About two hours before kickoff, the coaches and players will make the walk, and will be greeted by fans all along the way. An hour after that, the band will warm up in the Grove, which is a great way to get in the football mood. And just before the pregame show, the band and Rebelettes will march down Univeristy Drive and into to the stadium.
Oh gosh, that's a lot, and I didn't even get to everything.
PB: There's a lot of great stuff to unpack in there, but let's go ahead and deal with the most obvious question raised by your response: when you named your blog Red Cup Rebellion, was there some pushback for using the layman term 'cup' instead of the more refined 'vessel'? Seems rather bourgeois, don't you think?
RCR: It's tough to be bourgeois on the internet, I've learned.
Regarding the blog's name, before we were courted by and assimilated into the SB Nation borg, we went by "The Red Solo Cup." The name is in reference to the odd, draconian, antiquated, and oftentimes contradictory alcohol laws which Ole Miss football fans are subject to on game day.
There are rules involving when and in what capacity bars may serve alcohol - rules which change at the whim of the Oxford city council. Then there are rules on what types of alcohol are legal on which parts of the university campus, as in beer is literally legal in some parts of campus, but not all. Hell, just until this last summer, high gravity beer was entirely illegal in the state of Mississippi, making it the only state with such laws. As a drinker at Ole Miss, I felt like Peter Gibbons in Office Space:
"I have eight bosses. ...So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job."
This does matter to the Texas fans who may be reading this, because they'll need to be cautious. The general rule of thumb is keep it in a cup. The police won't bother you if you're not visibly intoxicated (Don't start singing Pat Greene songs a capella all by your lonesome. That'll be a dead giveaway.) and you keep your drink in a cup. At Ole Miss tailgates, red plastic cups are the receptacles of choice, hence our constant reference to and admiration of said cups.
And keep your Tito's vodka and Shiner Bock at home. I have nothing against either, but you'll be in bourbon country this weekend.
PB: Excuse me sir, but to paraphrase Gob Bluth: Yeah. The guy whose best friend held his bachelor party at the Maker's Mark factory is going to take bourbon advice from the guy who drinks it out of a red sippy cup. COME ON!
Also, as someone with family roots in Harlan County, let me kindly remind you, sir: wherever you are, you assuredly are not in bourbon country unless you are in Kentucky.
Now that we've both established our bona fides as floppy-haired southern guys with too much school pride, I am sorely disappointed to have to decline your gracious invitation to tailgate on Saturday. I've got a couple buddies who are still trying to talk me into a long drive on Friday night (so there's time yet for a spur-of-the-moment road trip), but I made my decision this spring to blow this fall's football travel budget on the down payment of a new house. It seemed like the right decision at the time, but it probably goes without saying: I'm now struggling to fend off remorse. Which only goes to show: never make an important decision during football season. You will choose football. Every time.
Speaking of which, it's about time we get to that -- football, that is -- but before we do, one further question on Saturday's pre-game festivities: can you call it a cocktail party if it lasts from 9 AM to 9 PM? My God -- how many college kids do you know that can pace themselves for a 9:15 pm kickoff? Has Ole Miss played a lot of big games so late at night? For many fans, the long day will make Saturday all the better, but I have to imagine that it spells disaster for more than a few. Any thoughts on what kind of impact the late start time might have? Do you expect a louder, more boisterous crowd than usual?
RCR: Ole Miss probably plays one night game or so a year. Most of our games are noon or 3:30 PM kickoff types of games, the former of which I actually prefer. After a day of drinking and a late kickoff, you're pretty beat by the time everything's over and done with. Those afternoon kickoffs though are perfect. You can get lunch in the grove, knock a few back, go to the game, and then party in the Grove once that's over and done with.
But yeah, Texas fans in town for the weekend are going to see a lot of pretty sloppy drunk freshmen and sophomores shouting gibberish at the tops of their lungs and maybe, just maybe, getting arrested for disorderly conduct. More so than usual, I would have to suspect. It should make for a louder and more aggressive crowd, but Ole Miss fans are notoriously fairweather. If the game isn't close at half, the atmosphere of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will die down significantly.
Generally speaking though, this game is one that Ole Miss fans have been looking forward too for a long time. Ole Miss does not have a history of playing good out of conference opponents. This may be the biggest regular season matchup against a team outside of the Southeastern Conference that Ole Miss has had since our victory over Notre Dame in the late 1970's. The atmosphere should be electric for really the entire weekend.
Which leads me to wonder how Texas fans feel about this weekend? I don't mean that from a competitive football standpoint, but more along the lines of general excitement and anticipation. Are Longhorns as excited about the weekend as perhaps we are?
PB: Oh, there's no question that Texas fans are really excited about this game, and for a while -- peaking about six months ago -- everyone said they were going, to the point where the math didn't work. ("Do you have a ticket?" "Well, no.") Now that game time is here, many of those who intended to go won't be able to make it -- myself included -- but I can guarantee a strong showing of burnt orange. Texas fans travel well, and the crowds that travel are great fans.
In part there's a lot of excitement about this game because it may well be a one-time opportunity. We've never played at Ole Miss before, and there are no future games scheduled as of now -- this could be it. Adding to the fervor is the fact that Texas' first two games were (a) played against Wyoming and New Mexico and (b) televised on the Longhorn Network, which shut out a lot of fans. And now we're heading on the road to battle an SEC team, who we haven't played in decades, have never played at their place, and with a 9:15 pm kick off time. For a lot of Texas fans, it feels like the 2012 season begins in earnest this week.
So let's talk about that, shall we?
In Part 2 of our conversation, RCR and BON dive in to the match up on the field between Ole Miss and Texas.