The same football experience marked by chants of Hotty Toddy and a sea of tents in the Grove brings three friends together for every game, not in the stadium, but over the phone.
For Bettie Hastings, Julia Taylor and Ann Larson, a group of women from Water Valley, age has made attending Ole Miss Football games impossible. Instead, the ladies have made a tradition of watching the games from home and calling or messaging each other throughout as they root on their favorite team.
The three have been friends for nearly 50 years. Larson and Taylor were next-door neighbors for 45 years, all three go to the First United Methodist Church in Water Valley and their children all grew up together. Though each came to love Ole Miss in their own way, none of them can resist the chance to cheer on the red and blue. The three have enjoyed two football seasons together so far and eagerly await a third.
“I can’t imagine not watching a game,” Hastings said.
Hastings came from roots planted deeply in Ole Miss. She grew up in Oxford, and though she did not attend herself, both her brother and one of her daughters graduated from the University. Up until two years ago she still attended the games, but she said that with a big screen TV and a cool house it is nice to sit at home and watch.
A battle with shingles limited Taylor’s mobility, and she can no longer walk without her walker. Though she has remained positive throughout the ordeal, she can no longer make it to Vaught-Hemingway stadium to see the games in person. Instead, she watches from the edge of her recliner as she and her friends discuss the game over the phone. According to Taylor, they make a party of watching the games. The women pop popcorn, have soft drinks and call or message each other to cheer after every touchdown.
“We get up and we holler and we say ‘did you see that?’” Larson said.
Larson joined the Ole Miss family when she married her husband, James Larson. In previous years, Larson attended every Ole Miss Football game, including away games. She said she would load up her family in their mobile home and follow the Rebels wherever they played. Over time, her children grew up and moved away, her husband’s health failed him and she finally had to call it quits. According to Larson, when she is sitting at home alone watching the games, she knows her friends are watching, and that makes her want to pick up the phone and call.
Though the ladies admitted to not knowing all the rules and players of the game, Taylor said they knew enough to understand what was happening. Larson’s son, Barrett, used to move the chains down the sidelines to measure first downs and would explain a lot to her. The women remember loving and cheering for Archie and Eli Manning, each had fond memories of their favorite games and coaches, and they are all great admirers of Coach Hugh Freeze.
Taylor, the only one of the three who attended the University, recalled her own Ole Miss experience.
“It was a wonderful time to be young. We had parties and dances and danced to the Red Tops,” Taylor said. “I loved it.”
The ladies also remembered walking to games in their younger years. They would dress up in their high heels and dresses only to have to park down the road and walk down the railroad tracks to the game.
“That was so stupid,” Larson said as they all laughed.
Hastings recalled sitting through a thunderstorm for a game against LSU and the first time she ever saw a black football player at a game against Houston.
“We didn’t know how to handle it, but we handled it,” Hastings said. “And I think we got beat.”
Larson recalled making a Colonel Reb to go on the tire on the back of her family’s mobile home and setting up to tailgate wherever there was room. She also recalled her first and last trip to Baton Rouge.
“I thought they were going to kill us before the game was over,” Larson said. “Never again.”
Larson, Hastings and Taylor all passed on the Ole Miss tradition to their children and grandchildren, though one of Hastings’ children is an Alabama fan and two of her grandchildren graduated from Mississippi State. She said she tries to be civil whenever the rival teams play, but they all know how she feels.
“You couldn’t pay me to cheer for State,” Hastings said.
All three ladies said they look forward to the upcoming season and plan to get together in person to watch a few of the games this year. They said they cheer hardest against LSU and State, but they would also love to win against Alabama for the third year in a row.
“We can’t wait for it [football season] to start,” Taylor said. “We are ready!”
Mary Cloud Taylor is enrolled at Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.