By Acey Roberts – Featured Writer
As published in the Nov/Dec 2014 Issue
Photos by Rebel Nation Magazine™
On, October 13, 2007, Alabama was in the Grove. The Rebel players and fans were mad and ready to fight for a win. It had been a tough couple of years for Ole Miss and Head Coach Ed Orgeron, but no one wanted to win more or had put in more time and effort than Coach O.
He was a very personable coach that was easily liked and the team adopted his personality. If Orgeron was a tool he would be a sledgehammer. He used that brute force in all situations, at times to a fault.
But in “Rebel Alley” Orgeron was beloved. The wildest Ole Miss coach was at home with his wildest fans. As the players made their way down the walkways on their way to the stadium, they pass calmly through the grove as the kids line up to slap their hero’s hand; but when they cross over to Rebel Alley, the atmosphere changes. The sidewalk narrows, the slope steepens and the noise increases. A large group of fans boxed in between academic buildings are literally bouncing like a mosh pit shouting player’s names and cheering for their team.
You may expect players to jump up and chest bump and enjoy this type of atmosphere, but Orgeron true to form, would lead his team even in that.
Coach O was as pumped as anyone on this day and beating Alabama would have erased a lot of disappointment over the last two years. He came down the Alley like a bull, locked eyes with Todd Morris and Darin Farley; they both jump up for an epic chest bump that ended with Morris rolling like a tennis ball into the shrubs along the sidewalk.
Morris got up with his signature doo-rag still holding on to his head tightly, with a big smile on his face. He didn’t expect anything less.
This level of enthusiasm had never been seen at the University of Mississippi before Morris and Farley brought their own flair to the Grove (the best known tailgating tradition in America) with “Rebel Alley.”
The two longtime friends, Morris from Collierville, TN and Farley from near Byhalia, MS, began to liven things up around their tailgate near Hume Hall in the early 2000’s. Inspired by the excitement of the player’s walk to the stadium, where fans get an opportunity to see and touch their favorite player, Morris and Farley wanted to do something a little different.
They noticed that immediately after the players exit the grove and cross the street to the stadium the noise level drops off to a calmer environment.
So naturally, Morris and his “brother from another mother” Farley, began to try to extend the excitement by any means necessary. This may include jumping and shouting or playing loud music and chest bumps with the head coach.
As Eli Manning and the team had success in the early 2000’s the home crowds increased to unprecedented levels and the area known as “Rebel Alley” became a tradition that would endure.
Morris tells me that the group was originally called “Whiskey Alley” and the term was actually coined by Ole Miss linebacker Rob Robertson around 2004 during Meet-The-Rebels day. As Morris and Farley made their way around to meet their favorite players, Robertson said, “Hey, here come those Whiskey Alley boys!”
It certainly fit the raucous nature of the fans, who don’t really fit the mold of typical Ole Miss tailgating fans.
The Grove is well-known for its reserved nature. Where else would 80,000 southern sports fans be able to converge on a small plot of land and the results did not include fist fights?
The Grove is a country club. Whiskey Alley is a honky tonk.
The Grove is a social event, where you will be seen and your fashion critiqued. Whiskey Alley is focused on the players and getting them ready to play a game. Fashion is a foreign concept in the land of bandanas and adults wearing jerseys just downstream from the grove.
As you may have guessed, not everyone is excited to see the Whiskey Alley boys represent Ole Miss in such a way.
Morris told me about a certain former athletic director that didn’t appreciate their efforts. “He used to call us the ‘cap and t-shirt’ crowd.” Morris and Farley are not graduates of the university. They aren’t doctors or lawyers or have their names on buildings (yet).
The University actually encouraged them to tone it down some.
They agreed that the group had gotten a little out of hand and embraced a new moniker “Rebel Alley” and worked to make it more kid friendly as well.
It was not until the hiring of Ed Orgeron that the group was perhaps officially embraced by the athletic department.
The former coaches’ personality fit in much better in Rebel Alley rather than the Grove. A brash, high energy, physical minded coach played along with the guys and may have gave them more than they wanted a few times, especially being bounced into the bushes. But they loved it.
Coach Orgeron also had a staff member in Hugh Freeze that also understood that Ole Miss as a public university needs to reach out to all fans and alumni just not the ones that buy luxury suites.
Hugh Freeze endeared himself to Morris and Farley to the point that when Orgeron and Ole Miss parted ways, Rebel Alley made its first road trip to support Freeze at Lambuth, his first head coaching job in Tennessee.
When Freeze made his way to Arkansas State as head coach, Rebel Alley was there for a game and to support one of their own.
Just so you know, there is no official membership process. You have to just show up and help fire up the Rebels before they hit the field. There is no officer hierarchy and no plans for Morris and Farley to stop or slow down their attendance at games.
Farley’s biggest memory? “The LSU-Ole Miss game in 2003 was probably one of the best memories I have that really made me realize we are making a difference. Linebacker L.P. Spence came down the hill through Rebel Alley waving a towel, screaming and just had tears streaming down his face. He was firing us up man, it gives you chills. I will be doing this in a wheelchair!”
Morris’ remembers, “The Auburn-Ole Miss game in 2010 was an unbelievable day for us all. Two weeks prior our “Captain,” B.G. Smith’s son was involved in a fatal accident at the Alabama game. I reached out to the coaching staff and they returned the love. Coach Nutt presented us with a Ole Miss helmet signed by the entire staff and team. That day, when the Rebels came through the Alley, every member of staff and team hugged B.G. and gave us all a little love back. It was awesome!!”
Next time you are in Oxford, make your way over to the area around Hume Hall on the south side of the Walk of Champions for Rebel tailgating from a slightly different point of view. Tell Todd and Darin to get fired up! – RN
*This is just a sample of some of the stories you’ll find in EVERY issue of Rebel Nation Magazine™. You can subscribe online here and receive every issue delivered right to your home of office. The July/August 2015 Ole Miss Football Preview is next. Issue hits stores on July 7.