Even totally empty, the Vaught stands fierce, a fortress of victory, a temple of the South’s true religion.
For the past few months, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field has been hidden behind chain-link fences and green plastic sheets, like dressing screens. Walls have come crumbling down. The scoreboard that broadcasted the Rebels’ 23-17 victory against Alabama in 2014 is gone, the turf rolled away. But the long history of the Vaught is anything but destroyed- it’s been completely rebuilt.
Since 2014, when the university announced its plan to expand the football stadium through its “Forward Together” campaign, Rebel fans have watched impatiently as construction crews have come and gone, waiting with bated breath to see what’s next for the Vaught.
Built in 1915, the original stadium could hold about 24,000 people- slightly more people than were enrolled at the university in 2015- and was originally built as part of a federally funded project. Now, it’s the largest stadium in Mississippi, capable of seating 64,038, including 30 luxury seats and 770 club level seats.
The $59.5 million budget for the football expansion project also included the installation of new stadium lights, sound system and video boards. Bathrooms, concessions and walking space have also been added to the stadium. Despite some speculation from fans and Ole Miss supporters that construction would not be complete on schedule, Senior Associate Athletics Director Joseph Swingle said everything should be ready in time for the pep rally September 1.
“We are on schedule to finish on time,” Swingle said. “We added new LED lights, replaced the video board in the north, added two in the south corners and a new distributed sound system.”
In addition to the new gizmos, gadgets and seating added to the Vaught, a few favorite traditions surrounding Ole Miss football are changing as well.
Athletics Director Ross Bjork announced on Friday all variations of “Dixie” will no longer be played by the university’s band, at the games, the Grove or any pre- or post-game functions. Bjork said in a statement that “the newly expanded and renovated Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will further highlight our best traditions and create new ones that give the Ole Miss Rebels the home field advantage in college football.”
The Athletics Department asked the Pride of the South to create a pregame show that would be newer, modern and inclusive for all fans.
In the north end zone, a 60-foot bell tower will be erected just outside the stadium, ready to announce to fans when a game is about to kick off or when the Rebs have brought home yet another victory. It will be called the Lloyd Family Bell Tower, in honor of Ole Miss graduate and lifelong fan, William B. “Cosmo” Lloyd. Starting with the 2017 football season, the Walk of Champions will be extended from The Grove to the “front door” plaza on the north side and end under the tower. The bells won’t be heard chiming until spring of 2017, but until then we’ll still have the thunderous roar of the Hotty Toddy chant to echo over campus every home game.
When the Vaught is full, it’s more than just a football stadium. It’s a living, breathing, red and blue bloody human heart. Football gods, like Archie and Eli Manning, Michael Oher and Chucky Mullins have all knelt within the walls of the Vaught. A century’s worth of history has been measured not just in victories or defeats, but in strength, in community and in valor. In times of chaos or unrest, in some form or another, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field has stood as the epicenter of our university and the life-force of our community. It is the shared home of every graduate, every fan, every student and faculty member; every Rebel. Vaught-Hemingway is the heart of the University of Mississippi.
It came into the world 101 years ago, on a muggy October Friday, just in time for a football game. It was by no means the concrete and steel titan it is today, but it was good enough for the Rebs. Ole Miss broke in their new stadium with a 0-10 loss against the Arkansas State Red Wolves. The 1916 yearbook reported that “…[probably] never in the history of this institution, has Ole Miss experienced such a disastrous season in football.”
But now it’s 2016, and Coach Hugh Freeze has taken the Rebels into an era of success not seen since the days of Johnny Vaught. Chad Kelly, Quincy Adeboyejo, Breeland Speaks, Evan Engram and the rest of the boys are gearing up to break in the Vaught all over again.