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Published: November 16th 2020
*No sharks or trains were harmed in the making of this blog.
¡Olé! Ole Miss, that is. While not my first time at the University of Mississippi, this weekend was the first time I spent more than 7 hours in the town of Oxford and the university. I hadn’t even planned on coming to this school this season, but when have things ever gone to plan for anyone in 2020? Still, I finally got to my first SEC game of the season, and it was a barnburner. So much for the SEC being known as the conference of defense. In reality, times are a-changin’, especially in the year of Covid.
Truly, this trip was more of a mini-vacay than my typical football experiences this year. Football just provided an impetus to go somewhere. And once I had conferred with Christopher, who had wanted to go to at least one game with me this month, plans were settled. I found a reputable motel in town—aptly named the Ole Miss Motel—with reasonable rates and within walking distance of the campus of Ole Miss and the Oxford sights worth seeing. It’s truly a gem, even if it looks grungy from the outside.
Friday night, our first stop was Rebel Rags, the premier swag store for Ole Miss apparel. Seriously, if you want something related to Ole Miss, it’ll be found at this place (except for a mask with a nose clip in it). Next, we sank our teeth into some juicy chicken at Abner’s, known for its chicken and with a continual stream of customers while we were in there. Then a walk around the main square of Oxford, which reminds me of so many small Southern towns I’ve seen. Lots of people were out and about, and we stopped by a few of the shops, but nothing really kept us for very long. We did see someone had placed little books of MLK’s sayings at odd places around the square, including the lap of the William Faulkner statue.
Saturday morning, we slept in but still managed to be out and about before most people were up. Blame it on our Eastern Time Zone bodies. We found a coffee shop between Abner’s and the main square, just opened in 2020, so we got caffeinated. Honestly the best pumpkin spice latte I’ve ever had (yes, I had one). No indoor seating,
so we settled in for some people-watching on the main square, between the courthouse and the Confederate revisionist statue dedicated to a ‘just and holy cause.’ Sheesh. Flash forward two hours, and there were a few protestors with signs surrounding that statue. Bless ‘em. I think we made two trips around the square throughout the rest of the morning, checking out books and seeing if anyone sold Ole Miss masks with the nose clips. We found lots of fun books but no masks. I did break down and buy a big button with what I can only say looks like a glamour shot of the head coach of Ole Miss football, Lane Kiffin, most likely taken when he was head coach at Tennessee. I was not the only person to fall victim to his charisma. Nope. When we finally went to lunch at the Ajax diner, I was standing in line for the gents’ bathroom, and the two people in front of me—a father and his probably kindergarten-age son—were both proudly sporting the same button! And the kid told me he had the same shirt I was wearing, except in short sleeves. (I bought my shirt at Rebel Rags: powder
blue with “OLE MISS” across the chest and the outline of a shark in red underneath it.) The dad was also the first person to give me a “Hotty Toddy” since I appeared to be a native.
The Ajax diner was just too much, however. Everyone knows how much I love soul food, and this place did not disappoint. But there was a lot of food on the plate. And there were a LOT of people packed inside the place, with very few masks at all. Plastic sheets divided the booths, but as Christopher succinctly said, “If I get Covid on this trip, it’ll be from this place.” Indeed.
We spent most of the afternoon on the campus of Ole Miss. My impressions of the Grove—normally where the biggest crush of tailgating perhaps in the world happens for every Ole Miss home game in non-Covid times—were of two parts: first, how empty it looked; and second, how little Covid was being spread because people were actually obeying the no-tailgating orders. Frankly, with all the maskless people around the square in Oxford, we were shocked to see so few people during our sojourn around the campus.
the campus bookstore, where I finally found the generic face mask with the school logo that seemingly every school has, was an adventure. Spoiler: the entire Student Center is only available on game days to students (with a student ID), so the only way into the bookstore is through the patio entrance. Mask acquired, we went over to what is most likely the main quad area, away from the dorms and the Grove. We ran into Ron Wilson (a name some of my McAfee friends might know) while poking around trying to find a building open, with bathroom. Spoiler part 2: the chapel is always open, with toilets available.
At this point, I decided it was time to buy tickets for the game. Yes, I had put it off, because tickets were too expensive so far, and they usually take a nosedive on game day since people need to sell them. Incremental drops in prices happened every day this week, but this was the best price I had seen so far, so I bought them. And then, my order was cancelled, no reason given. After an unexpected half-hour on the phone with Vivid Seats (just don’t use them—period), I
wasn’t going to get any tickets at the same lower price. At least I was getting the pleasure of becoming annoyed with unhelpful salespeople in the shade of the Grove.
The hunt for the mask and then this unpleasantness with tickets was starting to sour my day. Why did it have to be like this? I was so looking forward to this trip and even to this game. I mean, I look good in powder blue, and this was announced as a Powder Blue Out. It was meant to be, right?
We headed to the stadium just to have something to do. It wouldn’t open for another half hour. I was determined not to use Vivid Seats, so I began checking StubHub too, and miracle of miracles, someone posted 2 tickets for $30 LESS than the order I had made earlier. I immediately tapped through the check out, hoping the entire time that no one else had already snatched up these tickets while I was waiting for it to go through. I held my breath, and the transaction went through. Ten minutes later, the tickets were delivered to my phone, and I exhaled.
Our tickets were in
the corner where the Ole Miss team comes out of the locker room to get onto the field, about halfway up the section. Great views, frankly. It still amazes me that we got such a deal, and at the last minute. And it was a Powder Blue Out! Did I mention that already?
So for those who don’t know, Ole Miss is known for more than William Faulkner and racism. In fact, their current head coach (despite his reputation among haters for being a douche, though quite hilarious on Twitter) was one of the first to embrace the calls for change in the wake of the racial tensions over the summer. Whether for ethical or financial reasons, Lane Kiffin was still at the front of those movements in Oxford, right there with his players. He has earned my respect. Before his arrival, though, Ole Miss had already been having an identity crisis. While technically still the Rebels, they adopted a Black Bear mascot about 10 years ago, though I don’t think it stuck. We saw no black bears, either real or mascot, this weekend. Their defense developed a reputation for being predators and became known as the landsharks, which
I find totally hilarious and simultaneously awesome. It’s why I had to have a shirt with a shark on it. The school’s official colors are red and navy blue, but through some weird helmet mix-up over 50 years ago, the powder blue became an alternate color. Lane Kiffin has embraced that, normalizing uniforms and merch with that color dominating. The games this year all have a color focus, and we totally lucked out with this one.
Unlike a lot of SEC stadiums, Ole Miss’s Vaught-Hemingway Stadium isn’t all that big. Only one bowl, no upper deck, and the north end zone has only been filled in within the past decade. In non-Covid times, it only holds around 64,000 people; it has been limited to 20 percent capacity for this season, though the number of people I saw in the stands looked larger than that.
We found out another fun thing about Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. For the first hour after the stadium opens, all concessions are part of the Hotty Toddy Happy Hour: all food and drinks (except alcohol) are half off. So I got a souvenir drink and an order of nachos for $5. Thank you very much. That
One other discovery was that while face coverings were required to enter the stadium, they weren’t required to be worn at all times. In fact, only while moving around the stadium were they required. While seated, they were “strongly recommended.” So guess how many people around us were masked for more than ten percent of the entire game. Any answer other than zero is incorrect. Perhaps they looked at Christopher and me with as much surprise as we did at them. Fine, but at least we won’t get Covid from all of those total strangers.
The opponent for the evening was South Carolina, a team I have justifiably maligned in earlier posts this season. Georgia plays them every year, so there’s no love lost there for us UGA alumni. Ole Miss, I think we’ve played maybe five times this century. So I was pulling hard for Ole Miss the whole time, and not just because of the powder blue. Speaking of which, I don’t think the message reached everyone, since there was a lot of red in the stadium, which clashed very much with the powder blue.
It was also military day, since Veterans’ Day
had been only three days previous. So we got the little messages on the video board at various times throughout the game. But what about the game?
I’m not even going to try and give a scoring summary, since this is easily the highest-scoring game I’ve attended all season (over 100 points!). South Carolina scored the same number of points in the first half as it did in the second: 21. Ole Miss had a similar first half, except they managed to get in a field goal with one second left before halftime (much to the visible ire of Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who was fired when he got home from this game, though not due to this outburst, since he's known for that kind of thing). For the third quarter, Ole Miss got another touchdown to start, putting them up by ten. Then South Carolina scored 2 touchdowns to take their first lead since their first possession of the game. The teams then traded leads before Ole Miss finally started to show that landshark defense. Carolina never scored again, and Ole Miss tacked on another 2 touchdowns to go up by 17. Carolina didn’t give up, but they
just didn’t have enough left to get into the endzone. Final Score: Ole Miss 59, South Carolina 42.
Yep, we definitely got our money’s worth of football at Ole Miss. After the game, we walked back to the Ole Miss Motel, avoiding Covid-carrying and defiantly maskless frat boys and sorority girls left and right. Once we got past Abner’s, we were safe; they had already disappeared or were turning left to head to the square. Our hotel was only 2 blocks further down. It was after 11 PM, and we were spent.
Sunday allowed us to have another lazy morning, and then we made our way back to Athens, GA, just after the sun was setting. All in all, a very worthwhile trip. I’m glad we got to go, and I hope that, in spite of all the recent Covid spikes, that it won’t be my last trip of the football season. If it turns out to be the last one, though, I could’ve done much worse.
Tot: 2.626s; Tpl: 0.032s; cc: 13; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0215s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.3mb