Mike VI's first day on the job a roaring success
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's almost time. A rock band blares, and the brats brown, and the sun bakes, and a little boy waits.
What's history? What's the big deal? What's going on? Northerners can ask all they want and get no good answer. I don't get it myself. But I will get it. In 39 minutes -- now 38 -- I'll get it forever.
A cheer goes up. The little boy, Jon Cullen, age 10, can't see why. His view is blocked by the chain links in front of his face, and the white Chevy truck backed up against a white garage door, and the golden cage behind the truck's hauler. Jon knows what just jumped into that cage from the big building behind it, and he wants to get through the fence and see.His older brother, Ross, tries to sweet-talk the pretty blonde guard, but Jon doesn't care for girls or even the first game hosted by No. 1-ranked LSU since 1959. See, Jon has a black lab at home named Pepper. But he also has another pet -- a pet he shares with everyone within hundreds of miles of Baton Rouge. Jon's other pet -- the one he wants to see right now -- is Mike the Tiger.
But these things are no less true: The South, and college football, live on tradition like humans live on oxygen. And the tradition of Mike the Tiger is as real as the animal himself.Mike has been a part of Bayou football since 1936, when students chipped in a quarter apiece to bring a 1-year-old Bengal originally named Sheik to campus. Mike II came along thanks to a resolution in the state legislature, and his unveiling in 1956 was enough reason to declare an academic holiday. Mike II, legend has it, died of pneumonia after a six-game losing streak and was replaced by a clandestine Mike. Then, Mike III presided over the last undisputed football national championship and saw only one losing season. He also enraged Bear Bryant by growling at the Crimson Tide players. Mike IV actually escaped late one night, ran around the athletic complex and attacked a tree before three tranquilizer darts slowed him down. And Mike V, perhaps the most loved of all, witnessed 37 SEC titles, 23 national track titles, five national baseball titles, one national footballl title and Shaquille O'Neal.
Baker found his prize in Indiana. Roscoe was a Bengal-Siberian mix with spots. His head fit his body: "Not a pinhead," Baker says, "not a jughead." And he had a back story: His parents, Tigger and Kira, were rescues who found the right care, and the right mate, in a town called Idaville. "Roscoe was one of the most laid-back and playful cats," says Rob Craig, owner of Great Cats of Indiana. "He's curious, inquisitive and tolerant." On Aug. 25, Baker took a plane -- with all the seats pulled out -- to Indiana, and ushered Roscoe into a special crate with a burlap sack to keep the tiger calm. The plane returned to Louisiana, the crate was pulled out, the burlap was removed and Roscoe became Mike VI.
Mike practiced for this day, changing his diet and adjusting to loud sounds and even getting wheeled around the stadium to get used to the atmosphere and the scene. He would have to go without any sedatives, stay relaxed and avoid running into the white cage as the Chevy drove around the field with cheerleaders sitting on top. Just like a player, a first-year cat can be intimidated. Just like a player, the perfect mascot on paper still has to show up on game day.
Mike gets to the top of the hill, and now he's striding through his cage, standing up with his chin jutting and his muscles taut. He's ready. Waves and waves of purple and gold sway below, parting only to allow Mike down a path to the stadium and his destiny. The noise washes away everything -- the smell of sweat and booze and the animal itself, the discomfort of the hot sun getting in its last licks, and the fear of so many people crowding into such a small roadway.Now it's easy to understand, because the noise washes away time. Is it 2007? Is it 1936? Is it dozens or hundreds of years in the future? Does it matter? The noise reaches everywhere purple and gold is worn. The roar will die, but it feels permanent: The South will live forever; college football will live forever; Mike will live forever; and forever it will be 5:38. Eric Adelson writes for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Missouri AD grateful, regretful in stepping down
- No. 1 QB Murray stays with A&M after UT visit
- McCain: Time to talk legalizing sports betting
- Seahawks' Sherman, Bennett rip 'scam' NCAA
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Southern Living: A Weekend in the SEC
Ride along on an inside trip with Mike Slive as the unlikely boss of the best and bawdiest league traveled around the movable feast of an SEC weekend. Story Curry: Life in the SEC
Bill Curry has coached and played in the SEC, and he understands the passion of its fans, the genius of its coaches and why there's nothing like it. Story Alabama: View from above
It's a mantra any good Crimson Tide fan will recite: "At a lot of places, they just play football. At Alabama, we live it." Chris Low Arkansas: Calling all Hogs
There are few things in life that can bring a diverse state or a divorced couple together, but Arkansas football proves every Saturday that it has that power. Liz Merrill Auburn: Rocking and Rollin'
what happens in the center of town when students and alumni gather at Toomer's Corner after an Auburn win is a truly unique celebration. Zoom Gallery LSU: To be like Mike
Mike the Tiger's historic first day on the job drew plenty of anticipation and excitement. Eric Adelson Ole Miss: Get your Grove on
Beneath the patchwork and the paisley; behind the seersucker, Skoal and Sperry Top-Siders -- it's another world in The Grove. Mary Buckheit Mississippi State: Cristil clear delivery
While the fortunes of Mississippi State football have ebbed and flowed over the past 55 years, the simple, even cadence of Jack Cristil has been the one constant. David Albright South Carolina: Lights, Camera, Action
It's likely one of the easiest part of the job, but doing a weekly TV show pays off in the end for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Mark Schlabach Tennessee: Checkerboard Picasso
The Tennessee checkered end zones are one of the most recognizable scenes in sports. Meet the man who is responsible for the transformations at Neyland Stadium. Ron Higgins SportsNation
• Poll: Who are the SEC's all-time best?
• Ranker: Which team is the best in SEC history?
• Chat: Higgins and Low, noon ET
- All Conference Men's Auburn Tigers Orange Bcs Championship Bound Destiny T-shirt