Things Change

On the Ole Miss campus in the final hour of Friday, Sept. 7, a lot of folks were still unloading vehicles and hauling stuff to the Grove. It's such an important ritual for so many on those seven Friday nights in the late summer and fall.

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A few minutes later there were tweets of 40,000 at Midnight Yell in College Station for Texas A&M's first game as a member of the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies host Florida Saturday. ESPN Gameday is there.

You gotta believe the same type excitement and anticipation is rampant in Columbia, Mo., as the Tigers of Mizzou host Georgia in their first SEC football game.

The first time the landscape of the SEC changed dramatically in what let's call the "modern" era was 20 years ago when Arkansas and South Carolina joined. There had been rumors of a landscape change in college athletics, but it was the SEC that led the way and made the bold move of having a title football game for two divisions of six teams.

Things change. Like even the location of the title game. The first two were played at Legion Field in Birmingham. There was a multi-game deal. It didn't stay put that long. They moved it to Atlanta for the third one and it's never left.

It was also in the same year the conference added the Razorbacks and Gamecocks that Ole Miss finally stopped fans from parking in the Grove. One of the traditions for kids who came to Ole Miss games with their parents was running passing routes and trying to avoid slamming face first into a parked car while catching the football thrown from a buddy.

Or a pickup truck or van. Yes, those parked in there, too. Tailgating was truly that. Pop the car trunk open and let the eating and drinking begin. It was such a simple ritual.

But things changed.

It had rained a lot the opening week of the 1992 season, and when Ole Miss played Auburn, fans had to find alternative parking places. School officials made the ruling in the hours before gameday.

There's no real count as to how many vehicles actually filled up the Grove for games, but it was a lot. And they did fill up the place.

Like everything else involving college sports, nothing is unanimously like or don't like for a fanbase. Same thing for parking vehicles in the Grove. Some wanted them to go back and allow fans to park there again after things dried up.

Coach Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

Others said, "Wow. All this room to move around. Look what we've been missing."

And so the Grove slowly began to become what it is today. A tradition, tents and all, that's recognized in nearly every publication and poll as the best "tailgating" of them all.

Ole Miss 45, Auburn 21 was the final score of the night game the day they didn't let vehicles park in the Grove any longer. Maybe that had something to do with greater acceptance among the masses. You can walk a little farther and don't even mind thinking "Now where did I park?" when your team has beaten a program of that stature that soundly to start a season.

And it was a conference game, so it was important for both teams. Ole Miss opened with Auburn each season from 1992-95 and went 0-for-3 the rest of that span. But 20 years ago the first weekend in September was memorable. A day when no vehicles parked on the grounds of the Grove for the first time since maybe when cars were first used to get to games. And a night of winning SEC football for the home team.

Let's say Ole Miss beats UTEP today and Texas wins at home against New Mexico. The Rebels have already beaten Central Arkansas, and the Longhorns got past Wyoming relatively easily.

Then what? What will next week and next weekend be like in Oxford?

First things first, however. There's this battle with the Miners, who played well, especially defensively, in a 24-7 loss at home to Oklahoma. The lines all say Ole Miss will win, something in the range of a touchdown. Reports all week are that UTEP has other ideas and comes to Oxford believing it can win a road game at an SEC school.

They're yelling in Columbia, Mo., today for the Tigers to beat SEC opponent Georgia. And Midnight Yell at Texas A&M had never been about beating a conference foe nicknamed Gators.

And although it's a while until the final game of the regular season, somehow Texas at Kansas State to wrap up the campaign just doesn't quite have the ring to it the Lone Star Showdown always did.

So who do Texas A&M and Missouri, the new kids on the SEC block, play to wrap up their seasons? Each other, appropriately.

Things change.

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