After 665 days, the most iconic tailgating in all of sports has returned. Thousands of fans flocked back to the Grove for the opening game against Austin Peay on Sept. 11, like they never left.
Oxford was named the best college town in America by ESPN, and if you’ve ever been to the Grove on game day, this should come as no surprise. Each home game for the Rebels, 10 acres of oak trees in the center of campus are packed with red and blue. These tents are adorned with chandeliers, tv’s and plenty of southern food. There is nothing like it in all of college football, and there is a reason why it’s a bucket list spot for so many people.
Despite this being Lane Kiffin’s second year as a head coach, it was his first time attending the Grove and doing the Walk of Champions with his team. Leading up to the game, Kiffin wasted no time gaining attention for his first time, calling on fans to pack the Grove and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Kiffin got all that and more for his first time through, and his reaction was like all of our first times.
“The Walk was cool. The energy was amazing that early. To be out there. I know our players and coaches appreciated that and felt the support. We’ve got to keep playing better so we can fill the stadium,” Kiffin said.
Returning to the Grove after COVID-19 raised a few concerns due to safety, as well as the possibility of changing the southern charm that makes the Grove the environment that it is. The university announced in June that it would officially return to full capacity in the Grove, and since then, people have not looked back.
After walking it this week, I asked one of the veteran tailgaters what their thoughts were on how much it had changed.
“I honestly think the Grove felt no different at all. I saw the same people at the same tents in the same spot with the same Chick-fil-A nugget trays laid out as if the last two years didn’t happen,” alumni Bob Lynch said. “It only really hit me that it had been a while when I saw friends’ kids who I haven’t seen in two years. I have friends whose kids are walking and talking now who, last time I saw them, were barely standing.”
The tailgating scene has picked up right where it left off in 2019, with fans from all over coming together again to cheer on their team.
The Grove, and the Rebels, will be back in action on Oct. 9 as Ole Miss takes on Arkansas.