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.
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While alcohol is far and away the most consumed beverage during games at Vaught-Hemingway, it is technically not allowed considering the stadium is on the campus of the University of Mississippi. However, many cups with the faces of Ole Miss greats and the famous Ole Miss cursive script lettering can be found in the stadium on game day with the beverage of each fans' choice. The concession stand serves Coca-Cola products.
The concession stands also offer a variety of foods that can be found at just about every sporting event, such as nachos, hot dogs, peanuts, candy bars, etc. However, the addition of Chick-fil-A to the stadium in 2011 helped to diversify the offerings. That and the famous barbecue nachos are the two food items that are most likely to get fans out of their seats.
Personal Papa John's pizzas are also served at concession stands around the concourse. Prices for food can range anywhere from $3 for a candy bar to $8 for an order of barbecue nachos. Drinks are $5 for a small, disposable cup and $8 for a souvenir, 32 ounce cup.
There is no mistaking that Vaught-Hemingway is home to an SEC football program and a school where football is king. Fans usually do not arrive too early before kickoff because of the allure of the famous Grove, perhaps the tailgating king of college football. When they do arrive, they are very rowdy. Students remain standing for the entire game most Saturdays and positive plays are greeted with stadium-shaking celebrations.
There is a brick pathway that runs through the Grove and stretches all the way to the stadium that starts with you walking under a very famous arch on the campus called the "Walk of Champions." This walkway is where the team exits the bus and enters the stadium each week two hours before game time. Fans gather along the path to greet the players each week. It is hard to get a good spot unless you grab one at least 30 minutes before the team comes through. This is a fan favorite as far as tradition goes at Ole Miss.
The stadium is connected from the West side around the South end zone to the East side in a horseshoe shape. The North end zone is not connected with the rest of the stadium, but there are bleachers that reside directly beneath the 48 foot by 84 foof high definition jumbotron. While the marketing videos and hype videos that appear on screen are very well done and very captivating and almost certainly get the job done, as their job is to pump the crowd up, the sound of music and videos from the video board leaves a bit to be desired.
Just this season, the field has had navy blue turf installed around the outer-edge of the stadium to match the navy blue end zones that have red writing in them. The walls that surround the field and hold fans in the stands have also been redone and a layer of brick has been added to give it more of an aesthetic appeal.
Many recruits have been won over by the appeal of the Grove and the exciting atmosphere that you can feel inside the stadium on game day. Coach Freeze has brought with him the idea that the fans and his teams figuratively "lock" the opponent inside the Vaught and pick a fight with them each week. This goes along with a tradition that was started just a few seasons ago where fans, just before kickoff, lock arms with the fan to each side of them and rock side to side in an act they call "locking the Vaught." This really creates a hyped up atmosphere just before kickoff and really makes it tough on the opponent to come out and get into rhythm on offense early in games.
Previously on Stadium Journey I have done a review on the baseball stadium on the campus of Ole Miss, Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field, where I gave the neighborhood four stars. I say that to let you know that I realize I have the neighborhoods ranked differently. And here's why I did so.
Before baseball games, there is little, if any, tailgating that goes on. Before football games, however, in fact starting many hours before football games, tens of thousands of Rebel faithful gather under tents that also number in the thousands to tailgate and socialize with other fans while having beverages and various finger foods and such in the Grove.
While Oxford is a quaint town with a relaxed feel, and the campus and town definitely run into each other, the Grove on a Saturday brings a lot of excitement. Some say it is the king of college football tailgating, and a sight to behold if you are a fan of college football. Opposing fan bases also love to gather in the Grove before games and fan bases that make the trip for the first time usually walk around in a bit of shock most of the day before the game.
While the stadium is an on-campus stadium, it still just takes a few minutes to walk from the famous Oxford Square. Numerous bars, restaurants, and hangouts are just down the road from the stadium such as The Library, Bouré, The Rib Cage, and of course a chain that originated in Oxford, Abner's.
When bitter SEC rivals come to town, such as Alabama, LSU and especially in-state rival Mississippi State, Ole Miss fans tend to be a bit on edge and not so friendly. Rebel fans have a reputation around the SEC for being loud, uncontrollable drunks and when those fan bases show up to cheer on their team, Rebel fans are not always the most inviting.
However, Ole Miss fans are usually very inviting and friendly to most non-conference and even conference foes from the Eastern division of the SEC. Mississippi, known for its southern charm and hospitality, is usually represented well when this is the case, but that tends to go out the window when a fierce rival is in town.
As far as inside the stadium, it is refreshing to watch Rebel fans and how they react to the game. The fans do have a tendency to leave when things are not going their way, but when the team is good, as it has been so far under Freeze, the fans are relentless in their passion for their team. They defend them against referees and all else. Overall, the fan base is very knowledgeable as well. Football is king in Oxford and you can tell that as many Rebel fans are very educated and know when to cheer, when to bring out the boo birds and when to tip their caps to the opponents. That is very refreshing.
This is an area where Vaught-Hemingway can be really impressive and also really confusing. While entering the stadium is not a problem at all, navigating it can be difficult once inside.
There are entrances all around the stadium and regardless of what your ticket reads, you can enter through just about any gate. The ticket checkers are usually very helpful and polite as you walk in. There is really no front entranceway, however, as that is in the works with the capital campaign the Ole Miss athletic department has launched and planned to bowl in the North end zone and create an appealing "main" entranceway.
Once inside Vaught-Hemingway, you may not have trouble finding a restroom or concession stand, but be careful as the concourse can be difficult to navigate when attempting to walk from the East to the West side. While that is not something you typically have to do, it is inconvenient when you do.
While I would not call Vaught-Hemingway a must see venue, it is definitely a location to see if you are an avid fan of college football. When it is rocking, it can get loud and excited like no other venue in the country. When it is not rocking, it can be a very average college football venue.
However, for the price you will pay, around $50-$75, this is a very nice venue. You can come and bring your children and eat a quality meal and not break the bank. Plus, you get to see an SEC team in action. In the end though, this venue stands out more for the tailgating than the facility and actual game experience.
I will use this area to talk about the future of the stadium. While now it is a stadium that will hold 60,000 comfortably and provide you with all I have detailed above, the future of this venue is bright. I mentioned the plan to bowl in the North end zone, as the South end zone already is. The plan is to make the North entrance, the one that faces the Grove, the main entranceway that draws fans from the Grove directly into the stadium. With that expansion, the stadium's capacity will likely also increase to somewhere between 70,000 and 75,000. While the money is still being raised for the expansion, it is expected to be completed sometime between 2015 and 2017.
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.
311 S Lamar Blvd
Oxford, MS 38655
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