I don't tell people this, but when I was a senior in high school, I actually applied to Ole Miss.
I think I was hoping to reinvent myself as a preppy sorority girl.
It matters not, since I didn't end up attending there or Centenary, the other college I got into. (It's a long story.)
Instead, I moved to Memphis and later attended what was then Memphis State. When I met Chip, I started going to Memphis basketball and football games with him. I learned to despise Tennessee and Ole Miss. Which probably sounds weird to those of you who never tried to be a college sports fan just outside the boundaries of the SEC.
UT probably never gave Memphis a second thought, but to us it was an inner-state rivalry on the level of Louisville-UK. On a cold night in the fall of 1996, Chip and I attended the Memphis-UT game without three-year-old Elijah, who had to stay home with an ear infection. UT was ranked #7 and Peyton Manning was a Heismann trophy candidate, but we pulled out an amazing upset. Chip & I sat in the stands for an hour after the game while Tiger fans younger than us stormed the field and tore down the goal posts.
Seven years later, on a sweaty September afternoon, we sat in the Liberty Bowl stands again - this time with Elijah and Chip's dad - as the Tigers beat Ole Miss with Eli Manning at the helm. Nobody remembers our quarterback Danny Wimprine, but that running back DeAngelo Williams did alright for himself.
Back in those days, these were BIG WINS for my alma mater. I mean, they're big wins anyway, but Memphis didn't have much of a football program when we lived there.
[SIDEBAR: My best friend Susan's husband John Butler would like you to know that a 1-3 Tigers beat #15 Alabama in 1987. He would know. He kicked the winning field goal.]
In southern Louisiana, we became fans of the "Other Tigers." When we decided to move here, I was super excited to start getting all the Saints games on TV. I was kind of surprised to find that everyone is way more into the LSU Tigers than the Saints.
To be fair, the Tigers have a lot more national championships than the Saints.
Once my high school friend Debbie took us to a game, we started to understand why these folks bleed purple & gold.
I had never attended a game in an SEC stadium; I was not prepared for the ENORMITY of it all. It is truly overwhelming. Part of me wondered if it's bandwagoning to root for the team of a local college that you didn't attend.
But it was so much fun, I didn't really care.
The first year that Chip took me to Memphis basketball, Penny Hardaway was playing for the Tigers. The arena was packed and loud as hell. The Tigers went to the Elite Eight that year. The entire season was an amazing NCAA experience.
In 2019 we had season tickets to the Other Tigers. Joe Burrow and Coach O went undefeated and won the national championship. We were out of our minds with the excitement of it all. THIS is why people love college football. THIS is what "Louisiana Saturday Night" is all about!
In December at the end of that season, Chip and I were on a Broadway trip to New York City. It was our last vacation before the pandemic hit, and one for the record books in many ways. We stage doored for Harry Connick Jr and took photos with him. Later that night, Lil Romeo stopped us in our hotel bar because I was wearing a Saints jersey.
Saturday night, we were having dinner in the Theater District at a little Italian place. We were between showings of Freestyle Love Supreme (yes, we saw them twice) when I saw on my phone that the Heismann awards were being set up a block away. We paid our tab and went to hang at the red carpet, in hopes of seeing Joey B. The wait paid off. And the Heismann came home to LSU!
We didn't attend any games last year because of the pandemic but we're back now. Back bigger than ever, because now we've got the RV! We've joined up with Debbie's RV tailgating group - Krewe of the Misfit Tigers. And let me tell ya, RV tailgating is the only way to go! Late game? Don't fight traffic - just go back and go to bed! Early game? Avoid game-day traffic and drive over the night before. Cook up some jambalaya and hang with the group. Plus, bathrooms.
There's another option that comes with RV tailgating: Away Games. Which is how I ended up tailgating at The Grove 36-and-a-half years after I applied and was accepted to Ole Miss.
"The Holy Grail of tailgating sites!"
- The Sporting News
"The country's #1 tailgating school!"
- Sports Illustrated
As another high school friend - and Ole Miss fan - Jimbo Railey explains, "At LSU, the tailgating is spread out over the most of the campus. At Ole Miss, we're all packed into a 10-acre park."
I texted Jimbo to tell him we'd be there for the game, and asked if he'd be tailgating. He called me within like 3 minutes and emphatically invited us to tailgate with him and another classmate, Les Hardin. He told me exactly how to find them in the crowd of The Grove. My Bearcat friends are true.
The game didn't even end up being much fun; we lost, 31-17, although we did get to see Eli Manning's jersey-retiring ceremony. But it was a great day seeing old friends and experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime college football experience.
And when I saw how dressed up the Ole Miss girls were, I realized this never really was the place for me after all.