The University of Mississippi's Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field - impressive as it is - is one of just several factors that makes the Ole Miss football experience one of the country's very best.
Built in 1915, it was originally dedicated in honor of Judge William Hemingway, a law professor and chairman of the University's Committee on Athletics. In 1982, after coach John Vaught established the Rebels as the most dominant program of the mid-20th century, the stadium rightfully added his namesake. Six years later, the playing surface was re-named for longtime university supporter Dr. Jerry Hollingsworth, finally establishing the venue's current official title.
Vaught-Hemingway has undergone numerous renovations over the years, most with the ultimate goal of increasing seating capacity. The most recent expansion took place in 2002, bringing the stadium to it's present maximum volume of 60,580.
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field is no doubt a more than serviceable home for one of college football's most historically respected programs. As anyone who's been to Oxford, MS for a game will tell you, though, it's far from the only thing that makes Ole Miss' game-day atmosphere one of the sport's greatest.
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One of the countless great things about the Ole Miss football experience is that if you don't get your share of delicious food and drink outside the stadium, the in-house concessions offer alternatives almost as tasty and unique.
On the outer concourses of the stadium are countless food stands offering everything from Wendy's hamburgers to funnel cakes. Once inside Vaught-Hemingway, similarly unique stadium fare is available. A Hawaiian Ice station with every flavor imaginable and local favorites like Pork Nachos and brisket sandwiches are two great options, while stands with a traditional stadium menu are prevalent, too.
What makes the concessions at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium special, though, are the low prices. Jumbo hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and regular nachos each go for $4 and large specialty eats beat the competition at $6.50.
Though you're more than likely to fill up "" perhaps even for free if the right tent is found "" in The Grove, an extra snack or two during the game will be tough to avoid.
The in-stadium experience for Ole Miss football shouldn't be overlooked; it's hardly far behind more recently successful SEC programs in that respect. What takes the game-day atmosphere in Oxford from exceptional to magical, though, is The Grove, a 10 acre stretch of tailgating paradise located just outside the stadium.
Rebels fans set up hundreds of red and blue tents, replete with all types of food and drink any college football fan could imagine. They don't just eat and drink, though, as the majority of tents came prepared to get their football fix by bringing a TV and cable-box. It's a good thing they did, too, as the rival Mississippi State Bulldogs lost a heart-breaker, bringing thousands of voices to rejoice in evil euphoria. The fans dress to impress, too, making a Grove experience the ultimate Southern outdoor dinner party.
The excitement carries over into the stadium as kick-off nears. The Vaught-Hemingway crowd "" led by a raucous students' section "" is fully engaged in school songs, chants, and traditions. Considering Ole Miss' "Hotty Toddy" is one of the country's best rally cries, that's hardly surprising, but the overwhelming buzz of intensity and school pride can only be understood if actually heard. It's college football at its finest.
The area surrounding Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is the best in the country. It's that simple, and there's no debate.
The Grove aside, Oxford is a quintessential southern college town. Mountainous magnolias, Oaks, and Elms crowd the streets. Downtown is filled with countless charming local shops, bars, and restaurants. Dubbed "The Square," it overflows with Rebels fans before and after gametime regardless of the home team's outcome. Here, the party never stops, and everyone is welcome. Rebels toast Gators and Gamecocks, and visitors feel right at home.
The best thing about Oxford, though? Everything is within walking distance. Get drinks at favorite college hangout The Library on Friday night. Wake up the next morning and walk to The Rib Cage for some pre-game BBQ brunch. Then make the short trek to The Grove to get the real celebration started.
Oxford, simply, is one of the country's true college town treasures. Friends, fun, and football rule all else, just as they should. What else could you ask for?
Pre-game player introductions withstanding, the Rebels faithful deserve a grade worthy of The Grove. They're smart, passionate, loud, and appropriately rude to the opposition, just the way college football fans should be.
Having said that, they booed one of the Rebels when he was being introduced. It wasn't just several people, either; the boo birds were out in full force from every section of the stadium. Making matters worse, the player in question's only "offense" was his play on the field. Booing the home team as a whole "" let alone an individual player "" should have no place in collegiate athletics.
As previously mentioned, one of the great things about Oxford is its walkability, and the same is true for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It's located on campus just outside The Grove, making for plenty of convenient parking spaces, even if most of it is off-campus.
Once inside, migrating through Vaught-Hemingway to your seat is done with relative ease. There are several entrances to the stadium, concourses are very wide on all levels, and access to seats high and low is smooth via numerous ramps and stairways. It's crowded before kick-off and between quarters, for sure, but hardly more so than any other well-attended NCAA stadium.
Like the concessions, tickets to Ole Miss games beat market value, ranging as high as $55 and below. Given the entire Rebels football experience, you'll leave Oxford feeling you came out ahead; if there is such thing as an under-priced ticket, this is it.
It is site policy to normally award just one star to any single aspect that makes a Stadium Journey special. The Grove, though, renders that irrelevant. There may not be a better pre-game atmosphere in all of sports than Ole Miss'. For that, a rule can be broken, and the Vaught-Hemingway experience deserves five additional stars, all courtesy of The Grove.
If you asked me to describe going to an Ole Miss Game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium I would put it this way, Southern Charm, Southern Hospitality and lots of Southern Comfort. Yes, it is all about the party at Ole Miss and "The Grove" is the place to be before, during, and after the game, I'll talk more about the "during" later on in this review.
There is one thing for sure, Ole Miss fans know how to tailgate. In fact I would say, Ole Miss fans have tailgating down to a fine art. I have been to every Southeastern Conference venue, but I have never seen fans take tailgating to this level. Thousands of Ole Miss fans all packed into a beautiful area of campus known as "The Grove" eating, drinking and having a ball! As near as I can tell football at Ole Miss is just a good excuse for throwing one gigantic party! When we arrived at The Grove the party was already well underway as Ole Miss's band "The Pride of the South" serenaded the crowd with songs like "Forward Rebels" and "Dixie Fanfare".
Everywhere I looked for as far as the eye could see, there were gazebo tents lined with tables loaded with food, drink and red and blue clad Ole Miss Rebel fans shaking hands and hugging their neighbors and friends. As the time for the game drew near there was no mass exodus, if fact I discovered that thousands of fans remained at The Grove and partied right through the game. Some watched the game on televisions in the comfort of their tents while others acted as though there was not even a game taking place just a couple a hundred yards away in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
I made my way over to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium located just a couple of blocks south of The Grove and found Rebel fans beginning to file into the stadium. I joined in just as the band arrived from The Grove and made their way into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
I'm surprised the rating was this low from others. Granted, the STADIUM itself wasn't a sight to behold, but you cannot go to the stadium without having one of the best atmospheres if not THE best atmosphere in college football. And the girls, wow.
FOOD/BEVERAGE: There is some variety, notably a lot of barbecue at stands. The one I got was barbecue pulled pork nachos. And it was delicious.
ATMOSPHERE: You have to experience everything before and during the game. You knew you were at a true college football stadium. Can't truly describe it. You must check out the Grove before the game. It is a sight to behold.
NEIGHBORHOOD: If you go around the town, you will notice there are plenty of dress shops as well as a lot of restaurants. You figure it out of why as you go into the game as a lot of the ladies dress in a classy manner at Vaught-Hemingway. You really are in a college town. And there is the Grove again, where you could walk all over the area and see the greatness of tailgating.
FANS: Students if the game isn't a big-time game will leave early. But if you are around alums and/or just Ole Miss fans, they are very cordial, into the game, and smart.
ACCESS: I've been told this was a rough one, where it was hard to get to the stadium. But I can't figure out why. Stadium is right there with all the signs pointing to it. Parking was great as you were a stone's throw at the stadium for $10. Very reasonable.
ROI: Tickets are relatively cheap and the stadium itself isn't great by any means. But what you get from the atmosphere is worth the price.
EXTRAS: The stadium itself is close in so you really are on top of the action. A very cozy setting for a decent college football program.
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