Picture this. It is an early Friday morning. The sky is clear, the sun is shining and a gentle breeze rushes through the air.
You round the corner of Farley Hall, winded by the steep trek across campus and stumble upon a vast sea of red and blue trash cans.
It is officially that time of year again: Another Ole Miss football season has begun. Soon the Grove will be unrecognizable as tents stretch for miles packed full of finger food and giddy fans.
Angie Smith, a loyal Rebel fan who has been tailgating at the University of Mississippi for the last 20 years, stands in the sea of over 100,000 fans. Her husband, an alumnus and former football player for the Ole Miss Rebels, paces through the tent the married couple shares with friends and family.
The time is 9:15 a.m.on Saturday morning. They’ve already been here preparing for the game for the last two hours. Row upon row of finger sandwiches and Chick-fil-A nuggets cover the decorated tables: a rather grand selection of snacks for the crowd of fans that come through their tent in a day.
“The more, the merrier is kind of our theme,” Smith said. “Anybody that is hungry can stop on by. We will get you something to eat and drink.”
As loyal members of the university with a daughter who graduated as an education major, the Smith family makes sure to come to every home game.
Smith begins to reminisce on her memories of the last 20 years as her husband breaks into the large tray of Chick-Fil-A nuggets sitting in front of the flat screen TV.
“One of my two favorite memories was when the goal post came down,” Smith said.
She chuckles at a distant thought and smiles before delving into the story of her favorite gameday memory.
“It was one of the Georgia games,” she said. “An elderly couple came to our tent.” The conversation continues as she explains it was their first visit to Oxford, a visit sparked by the excitement surrounding the game.
As a true believer in the ideals of southern hospitality, Smith invited them into her tent to join their tailgate.
“They were so precious,” Smith exclaimed. “We had the best time with these people, exchanged Christmas cards with them for years.”
Only a few tents down from the Smiths, the Bryant family sat in the comfort of their tailgating spot waiting for the flood of tailgaters to arrive.
Michael Bryant is a new member of the Ole Miss community. As residents of North Carolina, the Bryants have never been invested in the Ole Miss football traditions.
With a set of twins — a boy and a girl — exploring their freshmen year here at the university, Michael Bryant figured it was a good idea to get immersed in the Ole Miss culture.
“It is pretty much unbelievable, the Grove,” Bryant said. “We grew up in ACC country and there is nothing like this.”
The Bryant family has come to every home game so far this season.
“It is the best tailgate party I have ever been to,” Bryant said. “People are really nice and they have a good time.”
With little experience as an Ole Miss fan, Bryant has little memory to speak to. However, he claims that his favorite memory so far is being in the stadium as the students from the student section chant.
Across the Grove from the Bryant and Smith family, Amy Hannah began game preparation for the St. Louis tent.
As a mother of five children who have all attended Ole Miss and go to every home game, it is hard to imagine just how many football seasons Hannah has seen come and go. Three of her daughters have graduated from the university, while her two sons are currently enrolled.
Hannah begins to recount her experience as an Ole Miss Rebel fan as she prepares a charcuterie board full of gourmet meats and cheeses.
“When my oldest daughter came here, there were not a lot of individuals from the St. Louis area,” Hannah said.
For the first couple of years, Hannah and her family would come to the Grove and aimlessly walk around. The family loved the Ole Miss atmosphere but lacked a place in the Grove to call home.
After years of wandering around and hopping from tent to tent, Hannah decided to gather 13 families together to start a tent for St. Louis students. The next year there were 25 families, then 45 and finally, after COVID-19, the Hannah family now shares a tent with 85 other St. Louis families.
Their tent, a massive space adorned with rows of food and two flat screen TVs, hosts roughly 400 to 600 fans every week.
“I have enjoyed hosting individuals over the years,” Hannah said. “We have a ton of fans from all over come to our tent.”
Hannah raves about the traditional atmosphere of the Grove as she contemplates the plethora of memories built up from the years.
“One of my favorite memories is of my little boys,” Hannah said. “They were probably in seventh and fifth grade and were dressed up in their little bow ties. They would be out there all muddy playing football.”
She immediately delves into another memory, telling the story of another day when the game had been doused by a horrible rain. The little kids were playing in the mud and rain as all the mothers watched them soil their nice clothes in a burst of excitement.
“I always tell people I wish I could go back,” Hannah said. “Just watching people embrace all of it. I do not think there is anything quite like it.”
While fans come from far and wide, one thing is certain. There is nothing quite like being an Ole Miss Rebel during football season.