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Road Trip: University of Mississippi

If you ever crash the Grove at Ole Miss, be sure to dress nicely and say "Hotty Toddy" -- and don't ogle

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By Adam Duerson

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Eli Manning
Eli Manning
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty
Who in the hell are we -- Hey
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
Ole Miss, by Damn!

Todd's a hottie with the what-now? And who's Bim Bam? "That's our fight song. Don't you like it?" I'm not sure. Strike one.

"You don't look like you work at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Don't you folks dress up?" For a tailgate? Not really. Strike two.

"You can't just go drinking that in the open." My bad. "You have to hide it -- like this." Cue indiscreet concealing of beer in blue plastic cup. "Much better."

And with that I, who couldn't have been more of an outsider if I had arrived sporting Winnie the Pooh pajamas, should have been expelled to the bayou from which I emerged before stumbling upon this fantasy world.

There are rules here at Ole Miss's Grove. And ways of communicating that I couldn't comprehend. (How does one conjugate "Y'all"?) Of course, I'd been set up. Driving east on State Highway 6 -- past the Cheepo Deepo [sic], a field of bathtubs, Waffle Houses -- one doesn't expect, well, much of anything.

But in Oxford lies, as promised, the most magical place on all of God's green, football-playing Earth: the Grove. A school of red and white and blue tents swimming in a shaded 10-acre forest of oak trees, floating in an ocean of good will and even better manners.

I didn't know the rules at the Grove, rules like: "Don't bother showing up before 4 a.m." Sure, space is at a premium, but for a 6 p.m. game against Memphis? Who would? Apparently everyone, when you consider the masses who actually do arrive promptly at four.

Another rule: "The Grove closes at midnight," though it's often violated. Because of the old Bible Belt standard (no liquor sales on Sundays), it's the only place fans -- and players -- can get their post-postgame swill.

My most egregious rules violation: Dress as if you're attending a baptism. Ironic then that I, the most underdressed of the bunch, was the one being baptized. Holy water would have spit me back up, but they don't drink holy water in Mississippi. They drink bourbon.

Yes, they drink bourbon and eat boiled peanuts and finger sandwiches from sterling-silver platters and serving dishes arranged by caterers and frantic moms on elaborate tabletops. They partake in front of flat-screen TVs with DirecTV, underneath chandeliers and amongst intricate candelabras and ornate flower arrangements. And when football calls, they pay people like Andre, at the Rebel Rousers tent, to stand guard.

The Ole Miss-isms keep coming. When nature calls, they don't "whiz," they "potty" -- at the Hotty Toddy Potty, or its companion, the Hotty Toddy Potty Too. And players don't just walk to the game. They walk like "champions." Read: in their best shirts and ties. Like adults.

Because that's what the Grove really is: a place for adults. A secret place run, governed and funded by grown-ups. Sure, the students drink their booze and scarf their food. But they also lug the tents in at 4 a.m. (often for $100 or more). It's as if the Ole Miss'ians have swindled their Li'l Miss'ians into attending only so they themselves have an excuse to come back.

5 Questions for Eli Manning

Archie Manning's youngest son questioned in 2002 whether he was "ready to leave [college] and go out into the real world." Smart kid. When you live in Oxford, where they redshirt Miss Americas, who wants the real world? The former Rebels QB, now with the NFL's Giants, gives his read on Oxford.

1. Explain "Hotty Toddy," please. If you're around Rebels fans, you might say "Hotty Toddy," and it just means you're an Ole Miss fan too. Any other meanings are beyond me.

2. Being the hospitable adopted Mississippian that you are, what advice do you give a visitor to Oxford? Go to the City Grocery restaurant [on Courthouse Square]. My parents went there every Friday night -- with reservations during home-game weekends, of course. Even I couldn't walk up without calling ahead. Make sure to try the shrimp and grits. I haven't found anything like that in New York yet. And visit the Grove, of course.

3. What's your earliest recollection of said Grove? I went a lot when I was in middle school and as a kid. You'd play pickup football in your best clothes and your parents would come looking for you. They'd find you all muddy and sweaty. People always think of it as a place for alumni and students, but some of my best memories from there are as a kid.

4. And then you grow up and can appreciate all the beautiful women and libations, right? As a student, after games I would go back into the Grove. My parents always had a tent and we had the full setup. Pretty much anything you wanted in the drink category, you could find it at our tent.

5. What else did the Manning family tent consist of? Nothing too ritualistic; nothing as fancy as some of the others get. But we always had some sort of shrimp dish, being from New Orleans. And then some sandwiches. Chili. Fried chicken. Boiled peanuts. Veggie spreads. Dip. More drinks.

Issue date: September 27, 2004

SI On Campus: September 23, 2004 issue 
SI ON CAMPUS

Sports Illustrated On Campus, a new magazine covering college sports and collegiate lifestyles, is available as an insert in 74 major college newspapers across the country every Thursday throughout the school year. Click any of the links below to see selected content from the latest issue.

Cover Story: The Nebraska Murder
The A List: Shaq, Money Picks and a Q&A
Road Trip: University of Mississippi
Scorecard: The Vibe at Virginia
The Final: Today's Forecast
Previous issue: September 16, 2004
 

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