By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The buzz surrounding the Ole Miss-Texas football game Saturday is more than what’s happening on the field.
The Rebels, 2-0 under new head coach Hugh Freeze, are playing the No. 14-ranked Longhorns for the first time in Oxford on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
With some 100,000 people expected to cram into Oxford for the highly anticipated game, many of them will be wearing the burnt orange of the visiting Longhorns.
And hotels, restaurants, airports and other businesses are welcoming them with open arms.
“Leading up to this week, we were getting calls about lodging, transportation, where to eat,” said Mary Allyn Roulhac, tourism manager for the Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This week, it’s where to park. There’s definitely a lot of excitement.”
Hotel and bed-and-breakfast inns in Oxford have been booked for more than a year. Hotels in Batesville, New Albany and Tupelo are getting the spill-over.
Shari Long Neely of the Hilton Garden Inn in Tupelo said Wednesday her property is near capacity.
“I’ve looked at some of the incoming ZIP codes of our guests, and a lot of them are from Texas,” she said.
Other hotels in Tupelo are seeing a surge in reservations, too, she said.
Roulhac said many industrious homeowners in Oxford are renting their homes for the weekend.
But it’s not just hotels and restaurants looking to cash in on the wave of fans coming to Oxford.
“Some churches are having fundraisers and offering to drive people around,” Roulhac said.
Texas has a deep and loyal following, and some reports estimate 10,000 or more Longhorns fans will make their way to Oxford.
And if they can’t get one of the 62,000 seats at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, they’ll be in the Grove or one of the city’s restaurants.
Roulhac said the anticipation for Saturday’s game is the highest it’s been in quite some time.
“Texas is such a large draw, plus we have all the Ole Miss students who are from Texas,” she said. “I know there are parents and families of some of them who are driving to see them and to see the game.”
Many fans will be flying in for the game.
The Oxford-University Airport is expecting a record number of private and chartered planes, which has Tupelo Regional Airport busy.
“We’re expecting 15 to 20 planes coming through Tupelo,” said David Smith, the manager of Tupelo Aviation Unlimited, the airport’s fixed-base operator.
Rental car companies also are getting a boost.
Bill Stroup’s Hertz franchise in Tupelo is getting a 10 percent to 15 percent bump in business.
“It’s not a lot, but we haven’t seen anything like that in a while,” he said. “And it’s (an) across-the-board (increase) for the other rental companies, too.”