Turning a football tradition into a memorable weekend in Tunica, Mississippi

 Turning a football tradition into a memorable weekend in Tunica, Mississippi

“It’s the perfect spot for a boy’s weekend,” my wife said. I gave her a sidelong look. She tried to prove her point: “Steakhouses, casinos, cigars…”

Hollywood Casino Tunica NeonHere’s the thing: I’m something of a city guy, while Sue is a through-and-through country gal. And it seemed to me she was trying to turn my annual football reunion—which is, yes, a boy’s weekend, though these days we bring our wives along—into her dream countryside escape. 

I have just a few days a year with my old college crew—one long weekend back in Memphis. Sue was suggesting not just a pre-game detour, but that we relocate the whole thing. We usually stay in a high-rise hotel downtown in the heart of the city, but she was talking casinos, vistas, and seeking out fun in a whole new way.

To tell you the truth, though, a steak and stogy did sound good. So, with some hesitation, I said yes: let’s stay in Tunica before the game.

Into the wild

Back in college, I’d heard stories about the Mississippi Delta and its vast expanses of farmland and its wild ways—though I had never ventured down from the city. When we landed on Thursday and began to drive south, as we pulled into Tunica, I got a glimmer of that wild. It was a blast of neon and bright lights, but not over the top. I started to feel really good about this, relieved to see sparks of energy. My kind of place. Besides, in all reality, we were really close to both Memphis and Oxford for the football games.

We checked in to our casino hotel and dropped off our bags. As soon as we walked onto the gaming floor, there were my buddies, Sam and Horace, with their wives, Debbie and Belinda—who, as always, were yucking it up, the center of attention in the room. They swept us into the bustle. After a few hands of blackjack (Sue’s favorite game), we sat down for juicy, rare steaks and, yes, a round of smooth cigars. Soon enough, I had to call it a night to rest up for the weekend.

Blue & White Restaurant TunicaBy the time I awoke the next morning, Sue was already gazing out the window. I joined her for the view: green trees and sparkling water, and a big boat pushing its way upstream. She didn’t have to say anything—she just smiled. I never would admit it to her, but here I’ll own up to the fact that she was right: it was no big city out there, but it was a still beautiful scene.

An old-fashioned Friday

At the recommendation of the previous night’s bartender, we drove into town for breakfast at the Blue & White Restaurant. It’s a classic diner built into an old service station on Highway 61, which is famous as the blues highway. Sam is a part-time musician, and like so many others is inspired by the Delta blues, and he was raving about all the famous musicians who must have stopped in to eat there. 

Sam convinced Horace and me to cruise the back roads with him to find the blues markers commemorating those old musicians. So we spent the morning driving alongside open fields. It looked as if the land hadn’t changed in decades. Sam told us stories of Robert Johnson and Son House, and although I’d never heard of Son House, Sam was quick to pull up a few songs on his phone. It was buzzy and foot-stomping and the perfect anthem for these big fields. With that music playing, history felt alive, and I felt alive in the moment.

Highway 61 Blues Marker TunicaOur wives, meanwhile, skipped the rambling so they could maximize their time playing and shopping. Tunica has a set of outlets, just across the highway from the casinos, so after getting their fix of the slots, they went treasure hunting. Late in the afternoon, we all met in the thriving, little Southern downtown, with a wide green strip and plenty of old-fashioned mom-and-pop stores. The ladies were happy to visit a few more boutiques while Sam, Horace and I stopped in at a local grocery, Jeffcoat’s, where we easily stocked up for the main event: tomorrow’s tailgate.

Time to tailgate

Downtown Tunica Street Scene

To tell the truth, by the time we were packing up, I felt like I wasn’t ready to leave—I was absolutely looking forward to the game, but I’d come to like this out-of-the-city way of life. Thankfully, the next stop was my favorite tradition—pre-football beer and barbecue.

As we kicked back, relaxing and reflecting on the progress of life, one thing was clear: Tunica brought a whole new personality to our annual tradition. What struck me most, was the town’s loyalty to its roots without being stuck in the past—like how football brings my friends and me together every year with a strong reminder to just live in the moment.

Stay and explore Tunica.

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