Surrounded and named by by ancient oaks, mysterious elms, and Mississippi magnolias, the Southern legend known as “The Grove” graciously plays host on fall Saturdays to thousands of Ole Miss Rebel tailgaters. Unlike most tailgating areas, there are NO cars,
trucks, or RV campers allowed in The Grove. They have been kept out of the area since 1991, when a massive rainstorm reduced the 10-acre grove to a swamp.
The autos were replaced by tents, and the legend of The Grove grew. Sports Illustrated recently ranked The Grove as the best tailgating experience in the country, and a similar ESPN poll ranked it No. 2. Before my visit, I heard so much about the legendary tailgating area located at the center of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) campus, that I could not wait for game day.
GAME DAY IN THE GROVE……Described as, “The Holy Grail of tailgating sites,” by The Sporting News, The Grove comes to life with as many as 25,000 fans on an Ole Miss Rebels football Saturday. Beginning on Friday, this usually serene area of campus becomes a sea of red, white and blue tents. Fans arrive often around Noon the day before the game (campus rule is no one allowed to “stake their claim” before 9:00 pm, which is strictly enforced by campus police) to grab their spot in The Grove. Ole Miss students generally dress in their Sunday best. Men wear slacks, button-up shirts, bow ties, Sperry Top-Siders and coats, while women wear cocktail dresses or brightly colored sundresses and high heel shoes. Some older fans also dress in this style.
Every now and then, a loud voice breaks the hum of the crowd present in The Grove with the yell, “Are you READY?” This is the beginning of the Ole Miss cheer, known as “Hotty Toddy.”
On cue, hundreds of fans reply, “HELLLLL YEAH! DAAAAMN RIGHT!”
Then, in unison, they begin to chant the Hotty Toddy cheer:
“ Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty
Who the hell are we, Hey!
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
OLE MISS BY DAMN!’ ”
The bathrooms set up in The Grove on game day are in trailers called the “Hotty Toddy Potty” and the “Hotty Toddy Potty Too.”
WALK OF CHAMPIONS ARCH……When Billy Brewer became head football coach in 1983, he was looking for a way to give fame to the football team. Brewer would walk the team from Kinard Hall, the athletic dormitory, across campus to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, leading them on a different route each game.
In 1985, Brewer decided on a specific route so that the fans could always see the players. Every Saturday the team would walk through The Grove on the east side of the student union and then continue down a sidewalk in the middle of The Grove. Ole Miss fans swarm both sides of the sidewalk to greet the players with loud cheers, and the most hyped fans reach out to touch the players as they pass before them.
As the tradition continued to grow, an arch that reads “Walk of Champions” was built in 1998 on the east side of the The Grove. The 1962 SEC Champion Rebels football team, which is the only team in Ole Miss football history to finish with a perfect record, gave the arch to the University. The players walk through the arch on their way to the stadium.
OLE MISS LOADED WITH HISTORY……In 1890, Dr. A.L. Bondurant, later the dean of the Ole Miss Graduate School, rallied Ole Miss students to help form an athletic department consisting of football, baseball and tennis. In 1893, with Bondurant as the coach, a football team came to fruition. That team won four of five games during that
inaugural football season, including a win in the very first football game ever played by an Ole Miss team, a 56–0 victory over Southwest Baptist University.
Twice in its history, Ole Miss did not field a football team. In 1897, the football season was cancelled due to a yellow fever epidemic. In 1943, football was abolished due to World War II at all Mississippi state-supported institutions by the state colleges Board of Trustees.
OLE MISS FINDS THE SPOTLIGHT……John Vaught took over as head coach at Ole Miss in 1947. In his first season at the helm, the Rebels posted a 9–2 record winning the first of six SEC Championships he would lead them to (1947, 1954, 1955, 1960, 1962,1963). That 1947 season also saw Ole Miss great Charlie Conerly become the first Rebel player to contend for the Heisman Trophy, placing fourth in the voting.
Vaught’s squads, however, didn’t stop at just winning league titles. His Rebels teams also claimed three national championships, and were often considered some of the best teams of their era. His 1959 squad, which was honored as the “SEC Team of the Decade,” was ranked as the third-best collegiate football team from 1956 to 1995, according to the Jeff Sagarin Ratings released this past January. The 1959 Ole Miss team won the Dunkel System national crown.
The 1960 team was named national champions by the Football Writers Association of America, Dunkel System, and Williamson System.
The Rebels 1962 team had the only undefeated season in Ole Miss history. The Rebels ended that season 10-0, and was named national champions by the Billingsley Report, Litkenhous and Sagarin Ratings.
Ole Miss played in 15 consecutive bowl games from 1957 to 1971 which, at that time, was a national record. In all, Vaught led Ole Miss to 18 bowl game appearances, posting a 10–8 record in those contests. For his efforts, Vaught was named SEC Coach of the Year six times, in 1947, 1948, 1954, 1955, 1960, and 1962. Failing health forced Vaught to resign in 1970 and hand the reins of the Ole Miss football program to Billy Kinard.
WHO IS THIS ARCHIE MANNING……Considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in Ole Miss and SEC history, he ended his career with 5,576 yards of total offense, and accounted for a school-record 56 TDs.
- His No. 18 is the only Ole Miss jersey to have been retired
- Earned All-America and All-SEC honors in both 1969 and 1970
- Finished fourth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy in 1969, and third for the award in 1970
- He was No. 2 overall selection by New Orleans in 1972 NFL Draft and went on to have an outstanding 14-year pro career
- His son Eli played quarterback at Ole Miss from 2000-2003, and has twice been named Super Bowl MVP, leading the New York Giants to two Super Bowl Championships.
TRAGEDY STRIKES…….”Chucky” Mullins was injured on October 28, 1989, during the Ole Miss Homecoming game against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Oxford. As Mullins plunged head-first into a tackle of Vandy fullback Brad Gaines after a short pass reception, the impact shattered four vertebrae in his cervical spine, immediately paralyzing him.
After being airlifted to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Mullins underwent a tracheotomy and five-hour bone graft operation to fuse the vertebrae. Mullins never regained sensation below his neck. Shortly before his death, however, he was able to move a hand across his body and touch his chest.
As soon as the injury occurred, Mullins became the recipient of a huge outpouring of community support. Ole Miss fans, college football fans in the South and people from all over the nation immediately began to give money towards Mullin’s growing medical expenses. President George H.W. Bush visited Mullins in his hospital room and encouraged him while on a visit to Memphis. Soon, Ole Miss established the “Chucky Mullins Trust Fund” to properly manage the donations. The City of Oxford donated land for a specially designed handicap accessible house for Mullins. Donations to the trust fund eventually exceeded $1 million. He returned to Ole Miss on June 20, 1990 to complete his undergraduate studies. Less than a year after returning to school, Mullins was stricken by a pulmonary embolism, caused by blood clots formed by inactivity and poor circulation. He died in the hospital on May 6, 1991 and is buried outside his hometown of Russellville, Alabama.
When Mullins was in the hospital, he and Brad Gaines, who did not know each other before the play, became close friends. Since Mullins passed away, Gaines visits and maintains his friend’s grave site three times a year; on the anniversary of Mullins’ death, on the anniversary of the injury and on Christmas Day.
His life is memorialized in the movie, Undefeated: The Chucky Mullins Story.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT REBEL FOOTBALL……The most points ever scored in a game by the Ole Miss Rebels was 114 when Ole Miss defeated Union College 114–0 on
October 29, 1904.
- The Ole Miss football team was the first college team in the nation to fly to a game, having done so in 1937. The flight was from Memphis, Tennessee to Philadelphia.
- The first Ole Miss game to ever be broadcast on television was in 1948 against Memphis.
- The speed limit on the Ole Miss campus is 18 miles per hour in honor of Archie Manning, who wore the same number during his playing days at Ole Miss.
- Ole Miss football plays a central role in the Michael Lewis book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game and its 2009 film adaptation, “The Blind Side.”
- “The Mule Game”, the Rebels faced off against the Tennessee Volunteers in Jackson, Mississippi for a crisp mid-November affair. Prior to the game, Tennessee’s Steve Kiner was interviewed by Sports Illustrated. When asked about the Rebels and all their horses in the backfield, Kiner replied, “…more like a bunch of mules.” When asked specifically about Archie Manning, he responded, “Archie who?” This inspired the Johnny Rebs and propelled them to a 38–0 shellacking of the Vols. This win would push the Rebels into the 1970 Sugar Bowl where they defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks to cap off the season.
THE GAME…… Bo Wallace threw for three touchdowns and ran for another Saturday as Mississippi set a school record for total offense with 751 yards, as the Rebels defeated Troy 51-21. Laquon Treadwell hauled in first-half touchdown passes of 23 and 25 yards to help the Rebels jump out to a 27-7 halftime lead. Ole Miss pulled away in the second half, opening with a 19-yard field goal by Andrew Ritter and a pair of third quarter touchdown passes.
The win by the Rebels moved them to 7-3 on the season with a No.24 ranking, and will face No.8 Missouri. The Rebels close the season Thanksgiving day against rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
I want to thank the many fans that I met, making my game day experience a fantastic adventure! This weekend, I’m off to Louisville!
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- Video: A stroll through Ole Miss’s The Grove in the hours before kickoff vs. Aggies (mysanantonio.com)