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Saturday at the Grove


The line of young men and women waiting to embrace Ogi are seeking her famous optimism after yet another lost cause: a failed upset bid of then No. 3 Florida. At the most southern of schools, in the most southern of states, there is still dignity in defeat. In between hugs, Ogi carefully arranges and rearranges this week's spread atop a red tablecloth. Pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, chicken salad sandwiches, all surround a centerpiece of daisies complete with Ole Miss flags.

The temperature continues to rise as the early-morning cloud cover gives way to the afternoon sun. Linens that were once starched and neatly tucked before kickoff are saturated with sweat and wrinkles. Bourbon and coke, holy water in the 10-acre Grove, is consumed by the gallon to stave off heat stroke.

Some in attendance are local, from towns such as Louisville (pronounced LOUIS-ville) and Flowood. Others in the gathering are from grand southern cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Richmond. The Linds are from Nashville and the Grove is the epicenter of their world on seven Saturdays in the fall. They are here on sweltering days in September and numbing nights in November, season after season, year after year. The names on the backs of jerseys change, but the Grove transcends eras. Here, the Linds reunite with old classmates, distant cousins and even a former Rebel coach known simply as "Dog" in these parts.

Her eyes constantly scan the tent for an empty plate or a frown. Ogi asks a student, "How is that pretty girlfriend of yours doing?" She plays mother to many of these students and isn't shy about getting on her son's friends about their studies and asking if Sunday morning is as important as Saturday night.

"Ogi is always genuinely interested in what's happening in my life," says Tyler Caswell, a Lind tent regular who was roommates with Ogi's son, Eric, his sophomore year.

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"Even without seeing me in nine months, she always remembers my name and greets me with a smile and hug. The Linds have a way of providing all this for us every week, but at the same time, never making you feel guilty or indebted to them for being there."

Ogi makes her way to a neighboring tent where embroidered chairs announce "Cherokee Rebels" inhabit the area.

Sweat beads on the forehead of Bryan Owen as he flips mini sausages wrapped in bacon. "Try one of those, best thing you'll ever taste," he says of his creation. At one time, Owen was the Rebels' career points leader as a kicker. Twenty-some years after his last kick, Bryan is recanting old family stories with cousin Ogi. The two have tents roughly 10 yards apart, but agree that catching up isn't as easy as it once was because of their ever-expanding groups.

Eventually, families all around the Lind tent pack cars with the remnants of a nine-hour tailgate as the sun slowly sets beyond Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. As the last beer is snatched from the cooler, Ogi is already thinking about homecoming. The ribs were a huge hit and she decides they will need twice as many when Louisiana Tech comes to town.

Slowly the students peel off from the tent. They are bound for bars on the Square, or one of the many fraternity parties on campus. Ogi and Chip watch them disappear into the night with a hint of melancholy. Sunday the Linds will make the four-hour drive back to Nashville. In two weeks, though, everything begins anew.