Welcome to Oxford, Mississippi, a small town located in Lafayette County with an estimated population of 18,916. One might wonder, what makes Oxford, MS so special that even Katy Perry would have to come check it out for herself? After all, if you are just passing through, you might not even realize that you have been there, and you would be missing out on all that this hidden gem has to offer. On the outside, Oxford appears to be the same as most small southern towns, filled with numerous mom and pop shops, truck stops, fast food restaurants, and various chain businesses. To truly experience the uniqueness of Oxford, you have to travel deep into the heart of the tiny town. In the heart of Oxford, Mississippi, lies the University of Mississippi, home of the Ole Miss Rebels.
The answer to the question, what makes Oxford, Mississippi so special? Most would agree that it is the centerpiece of the school, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and all of its game day traditions. Built in 1915, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in college football. It was originally named Hemingway Stadium, in honor of the late Judge William Hemingway, a former law professor and chairman for the University of Mississippi Athletics Committee. On October 16, 1982, the stadium officially became known as Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, honoring legendary Ole Miss Head Football Coach John Howard Vaught who led the Rebels to three national championships (1959, 1960 and 1962) during his tenure. In 1998, the playing field was named Hollingsworth Field, in honor of Dr. Jerry Hollingsworth, a major donor of Ole Miss Athletics.
'The Vaught' as it is referred to by most Ole Miss fans, is without a doubt one of the best venues in college football, and has been for many years. The combination of recent renovations along with the success of the football program, make spending a Saturday at 'The Vaught' worth your while. On August 18, 2016, an estimated $43.5 million renovation of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was completed. The renovation is highlighted by the bowling and expansion of the student section, located in the north end zone. This section which was previously a stand-alone structure, is now connected to the rest of the stadium, making the concourse much more accessible for students. Other renovations include a new video board, sound system, stadium lights, and a natural grass playing surface. In 2015, as a part of the university’s $200 million Forward Together capital campaign, renovations were made to the south end zone to include the addition of 30 luxury suites and 770 club level seats.
After the conclusion of the most recent renovations, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium now seats 64,038. 64,038 seems like an odd number right? No, not really, at least not for Ole Miss. Although it was an original estimate presented by AECOM during the design process, when Ole Miss associate athletic director Joe Swingle heard the number he couldn’t believe it but he demanded that the stadium seating be left at exactly 64,038. Why, you might ask? It is due to the significance of the number 38. The number 38 is very special to The University of Mississippi. From 1988 to 1989, the number 38 was worn by Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins, whose football career tragically came to an end on October, 28, 1989 during the Rebels’ Homecoming game against Vanderbilt University after he sustained an injury that left him paralyzed. In 2006 Chucky Mullins’ #38 jersey was retired, making it only the second jersey to be retired in the history of the Rebels’ football program with the first being Archie Manning’s #18. As a benefit of being the recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, the selected defensive player is gifted with the honor of wearing the #38 jersey for the season in which they were selected for the award. They are the only player gifted with this honor.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Throughout the main concourse at Vaught-Hemingway, you will find a variety of food options. 'The Vaught' offers many traditional items, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, funnel cakes, cotton candy, sno cones, popcorn and nachos. You will also find several non-traditional items throughout the concourse as well, including, kettle corn, fresh squeezed lemonade, sweet tea and Bavarian nuts. 'The Vaught' also has a few specialty stands that include Papa John's Pizza, Chick-fil-A, The Fry Zone, Pig-mento's, The Rebel Grill and Chops BBQ.
Based on the foot traffic, Chop's BBQ seems to be the most popular choice, and many fans suggest their pulled pork nachos. Other items that can be found at Chops BBQ include BBQ turkey legs, sausage and cheese platters, and pulled pork sandwiches. Based on the average prices of most items at various concession stands, $15.00 should get you a meal of your choice at most places.
Game day in Oxford, Mississippi is one of the best scenes in all of college football. To truly experience the culture of Ole Miss, you must start with its staples; tailgating in The Grove, The Walk of Champions, and its Greek life. It is no secret that Oxford is the tailgating capital of the world. Sure, you've probably heard the stories but until you have experienced it first hand, you cannot fully grasp the greatness.
One tradition that you cannot miss is tailgating in the The Grove. Consisting of 10 acres of beauty in the heart of campus, The Grove is where all of the tailgating takes place. On game day, The Grove is packed with red, white, and blue tents, some are simple and traditional, while others are decorated with chandeliers and décor that could give Buckingham Palace a run for its money. Another game day tradition that you should check out is the Walk of Champions. The Walk of Champions takes place two hours before every home game, beginning at the Walk of Champions archway continuing through The Grove, with its ultimate destination being Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Fans line both sides of the bricked pathway to cheer on the Ole Miss players and coaches as they make their way to the stadium.
Another major staple of the Ole Miss culture is its Greek life. If you do make the trip to Oxford, take the time to walk sorority and fraternity row; some of the houses would put the Governor's Mansion to shame. It is tradition for all of the sorority's to decorate the outside of their houses with game day signs, and it is truly a sight to behold. Another important fact to know is what to wear. If you are thinking about wearing a T-shirt and jeans to the game, don't, unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb. If you attend a game at Ole Miss, be prepared to break out your Sunday's best a day early. While most would find it a bit ridiculous, game day attire at Ole Miss for the most part consists of cocktail dresses, sundresses, heels, and fine jewelry for women with hair and makeup done perfectly, of course. As for men, some will wear slacks, sport coats, and button up shirts with either ties or bowties, while others will opt for a more casual look consisting of an Ole Miss polo shirt, khakis or jeans and either loafers or cowboy boots.
When in Oxford, you must visit its iconic town square, affectionately known as 'The Square.' Once you step on 'The Square' you will think that you have time traveled to the 60's. 'The Square' is filled with numerous local restaurants, shops and businesses. If you make your way to 'The Square' be sure to check out Neilson's Department Store, it is the oldest department store in the South.
As for dining options on 'The Square,' you can never go wrong with Ajax Diner. Ajax is famous for its moderately priced downhome soul food. If you are not sure what to order, try Eli Manning's favorite meal which consists of a house salad, pork chop, mashed potatoes with gravy and butter beans. Other popular dining options on the square include Old Venice Pizza Co. and City Grocery, which tend to be higher priced.
And last but certainly not least, a trip to Oxford would not be complete without checking out the bar scene which attracts both the young and the middle aged on a game weekend. In Oxford, if you hear someone say that they are going to 'The Library,' they probably are not referring to the actual library. Instead, they are talking about a local hot spot, a sports bar located on 'The Square' that is definitely the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night when the Rebels have a home game. A few other bars to check out include Funky's, a New Orleans style bar known for their frozen daiquiris, Rooster's Blues House, Rafter's and Round Table.
While most of your Oxford to do list can be checked off on 'The Square,' there are a couple of places that you must visit while you are in town, with the first being Taylor Grocery. Located just outside of Oxford in the tiny town of Taylor, Mississippi, lies one of the hidden gems of the South. Taylor Grocery is a small family owned restaurant that has been in business for almost 40 years. If you are looking for some southern soul food, then you are in the right place. One might wonder, how in the world this tiny little restaurant in the middle of nowhere has become a national icon? The answer is simple, it is the combination of the food and the atmosphere. The restaurant is small, so seating is scare and demand is high, but that's alright. Part of the experience of Taylor Grocery is being able to socialize outside of the restaurant while waiting on a table, and taking full advantage of their BYOB policy. Once inside, I would suggest ordering the Mississippi Blackened Catfish, it is one of their more popular items and is served with hush puppies and two sides of your choice for only $13.00. If catfish isn't really your thing, don't worry, they have plenty of other options and you can't go wrong with whatever you choose. I would also suggest their Rotel Fries as a side item.
Before you leave, I would also suggest making a stop at Rowan Oak which was the home of Nobel Prize winner and American author, William Faulkner. A native of nearby New Albany, MS, Faulkner purchased the home which was originally known as "The Bailey Place." in 1930. In 1931, Faulkner renamed the home "Rowan Oak," after the rowan tree, which serves as a symbol of security and peace. While house tours are available year round, tours are available during the Fall season from 10am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday and from 1pm-4pm on Sunday. Admission for the house tour is $5.00 per person.
For the most part, Ole Miss fans are cordial, even to the fans of the opposing teams. Also, once you get into the stadium, be prepared to meet your neighbor if you don't already know them. Prior to kickoff, players and fans lock arms and sway from side to side. This pregame tradition is known as locking 'The Vaught.' To put it simply, expect to experience Southern hospitality when you are in Oxford.
Due to the small size of Oxford and limited parking on campus, game day parking can be pretty hectic. The most convenient place to park is in one of the reserved lots on campus but it will probably cost you a pretty penny. Depending on the game, parking passes can range anywhere from $30-$150, and the parking passes can be purchased on various third party websites (StubHub, Vivid Seats, etc.). Sometimes you may get lucky and snag a spot in one of the free parking lots just off of campus but they usually fill up pretty quickly. More than likely, you will end up parking at one of the local businesses just off of campus for a fee.
Although parking isn't the greatest, one nice perk is that they have shuttle busses that drop you off close to the stadium. The shuttle service begins at 6am on game day and ends two hours after the conclusion of the game. The shuttle service is also free of charge. Parking just off of campus and taking the shuttle to and from the stadium is usually your best bet. Once on campus, entry into the stadium is usually a breeze. With multiple gates and ticket scanners, very rarely do you have to wait in line for an extended period of time. Once you get inside of the stadium, the concourse is easily accessible for fans, and the bowl structure of the stadium gives you the ability to walk around the entire stadium.
If you do decide to make the trip to Oxford, rest assured that you will not be disappointed. You will have the opportunity to visit one of the best venues in college football when you visit 'The Vaught' while being able to watch some of the nation's top NFL prospects. The game day traditions and all that Oxford has to offer make the trip well worth your time and money.
A couple of tips to help you stretch your dollar, when looking for places to stay, try looking in Batesville, MS. It is located just outside of Oxford and hotel prices are usually cheaper there, plus it is often hard to find a place to stay in Oxford on a game weekend unless you book your stay well in advance. Also, try checking the housing section in Oxford, MS on Craigslist. Many people buy houses in Oxford just to make some extra cash by renting them out on game weekends. If you have a large group of people, this is usually the best option.
For tickets, Ole Miss has partnered with StubHub this 2016 season as its official ticket provider, so that is where the majority of tickets can be found. You can also find some decent deals on Vivid Seats which usually tends to be a bit cheaper.
On any given game day in Oxford, it is not unusual to run into a few celebrities. Archie and Olivia Manning make quite a few appearances throughout the season, current Fox News anchor and Ole Miss alum Shepard Smith can often be found in 'The Grove' on game day.
Eli Manning also has a home in Oxford where he spends his offseason with his family, so if you stop in Oxford during the offseason, don't be surprised to see the Giants quarterback out on the town.
A couple of other fun facts about Taylor Grocery; it has been featured in National Geographic and also on ESPN's College GameDay, when the show came to Oxford for the first time in 2014.
Again, game day in Oxford, Mississippi is one of the best scenes in all of college football and the traditions and all that Oxford has to offer make the trip well worth your time and money.
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.
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.
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.
In 2013, the 60,815 that was announced to be on hand for the Rebels’ home opener was the 8th largest home crowd for Ole Miss in the last five years. Excitement around the program is at a fever pitch due to the instant success that second year head coach, Hugh Freeze, has brought to a previously near dead Ole Miss football program.
Since 1915, Ole Miss has called Vaught-Hemingway Stadium home. It was named after Judge William Hemingway, who was a law professor and chairman of the athletics committee, and legendary coach Johnny Vaught, the school’s most successful football coach. The stadium has seen its fair share of renovations and expansions that has brought it to its current capacity of 60,580. The largest crowd to ever attend a game inside the Vaught is 62,657 against Alabama in 2009.
Food & Beverage - The food, when people actually eat in the stadium, is of good quality. Probably the best bet for food is BBQ nachos.
Atmosphere - The atmosphere at Vaught-Hemingway varies fairly widely depending on the level of opponent. While many "money" non-conference games don't have the best atmosphere, SEC games, particularly SEC West games, and non-conference games vs. teams from the Big 5 conferences, have a great atmosphere with well over 60,000 fans in the stadium.
Neighborhood - Oxford is one of the great Southern towns. It is approximately a mile from VHS to the Oxford square, with many fine restaurants there. The campus of Ole Miss itself is one of the nation's most beautiful.
Fans - Ole Miss fans can be somewhat finicky, depending on the situation of the game and the score at the time. As with many SEC schools, liquor flows during tailgating, so many students are not always in the best mind while complaining. However, Ole Miss fans love football and many are very passionate about the game.
Access - Getting on campus for a game can be very difficult. Parking on campus has recently been banned without a parking pass. Due to this, every church, apartment complex, and recreation center charges for parking in their lot, with some having shuttle service available through the city of Oxford.
Return on Investment - Prices are dependent on opponents, but are fairly comparable priced as compared to the rest of the SEC.
Extras - The true show at the Ole Miss football games is the Grove. The Grove has been argued to be the top tailgating in America. With women in sundresses, gentlemen in coats and ties, and tents with fine china and chandeliers, it is clear that this isn't your average beers in the parking lot tailgating. If you are an out-of-towner visiting, go by someone's tent. Many will be willing to feed you, just as long as you can take a little good-natured ribbing
Ole Miss has had some tough years recently, but still a great crowd regardless - they are doing a lot better this year, though. Nice stadium, albeit a small town kind of in the middle of nowhere. But, it is close to Elvis' birthplace so gives you some things to do if you are there for the weekend. Also 2-time Superbowl MVP Eli Manning went there, so that is also cool - who else could have beat Tom Shady? Yep, I said it.
311 S Lamar Blvd
Oxford, MS 38655
110 Courthouse Sq
Oxford, MS 38655
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