A more iconic individual than football players, Golden Girls or members of “The Golden Band from Tigerland,” Mike the Tiger is one of the few members of the LSU community who will neither graduate, retire or jump the flagship.
While Mike the Tiger — the living, breathing Bengal-Siberian mix — has been part of the University since 1936, Mike the mascot has only been hyping athletics and hugging small children since the 1980s.
But Mike’s responsibilities extend far beyond what meets the average tiger’s eye. Between athletic events, weddings, birthday parties, mascot competitions, photo and video shoots, being Mike proves to be a demanding role.
Ready to go at the drop of a paw, Mike has a 24-hour job, and he can be called upon within 30 minutes of a gig.
Team Mike is made up of students who help the mascot attend events, according to the LSU Sports website.
“It is necessary to have Mike at every possible event, rain or shine, with the highest regard to spirit. The people in this group are also called to have a high spirit for LSU as they are also at various athletic events. Team Mike is looking for a well-rounded, dedicated individual who is outgoing and can help this program grow,” the website states.
HISTORY OF MIKE
The mascot wasn’t always supported by the Athletic Department. He was part of the Tigerband until the Spirit Squad — a group that includes cheerleaders and Tiger Girls — adopted him, and there grew a desire to bring Mike up to competitive mascot standards.
Serrhal Adams, who served as the striped feline for a year in 1988, said although today’s Mike is athletic, Mike in the ’80s looked like “a beer belly Cajun” or “a poorly drawn Charlie Brown.” He said it’s strange to see the current Mike doing pushups, stunts and high energy routines.
The student in the role of Mike the Tiger before Adams had come from the tuba section of the Tigerband, and when the position was passed down, the new, leaner students had to wear 50 pounds of padding to maintain the look.
“Back when I was in school, this guy was a traditional-looking tuba player with a traditional walk, a bounce in his step and a big belly,” Adams said. “He was one of the few Mikes to be ejected from a basketball game.”
Another tuba player acted as Mike just before Adams, who in his senior year was the first student to win the role through audition.
As a mascot which had not yet garnered the fame and reputation Mike has now, Adams said the newness sometimes led to complicated situations. He described having to open his trunk to reveal the costume to a disbelieving parking attendant.
“I had to show them this is who I am. There were no passes, nothing to identify you other than you had the Mike uniform in a bag.” he said. “There was no locker room for me to change in, so I always had to find a bathroom stall with no one in it.”
Adams described alumni events he appeared at as “not so much fun.” After holding guests’ attention for about five minutes, he felt out of place but had to remain in costume for three to four hours.
But Adams declared 99 percent of his experiences were “full of fantastic highs” some of which included a cameo in the film “Everybody’s an All American,” holding a Mike cub and shaking “more politicians hands than I’d care to.”
Now considered student athletes, members of modern-day Team Mike must maintain a certain GPA and submit to drug testing in exchange for excused classes, priority scheduling and a partial athletic scholarship.
Mike participates in Universal Cheerleading Association competitions, where he placed third in 2012. He is ranked fourth for mascots in the country. He went to Orlando in January and placed fourth in the UCA’s mascot championship.
Though responsibility is spread evenly between the six current members of Team Mike, The Captain puts in a few more hours, handles scheduling and takes extra care to ensure Mike is where he needs to be through summer, winter break and the intersessions in between.
“There’s never a break with Mike,” The Captain said. “He’s always going, so you don’t ever stop with him.”
Tryouts for Team Mike will be held in April, and The Captain said he’d like to see a large turnout.
“This is the chance to be a part of something really great,” he said. “This program is one of the best mascot programs in the country.”
The Captain said he became involved with Team Mike because he wanted to bring him to the fans and to help improve the program.
He described his experiences doing a commercial shoot in Los Angeles with Les Miles, visiting kids in the hospital and traveling around the country with Mike.
“Being here on a gameday to see a fan who it could be their last game because of cancer, it’s really neat to be a part of,” The Captain said.
Also a part of Team Mike, Member 13, a kinesiology sophomore, expressed similar job satisfaction. A trip to Orlando last year brought the team together with special needs children.
“That’s the reason that I’m Mike, is bringing the joy that I saw [Mike] bring to those kids,” Member 13 said. “You don’t worry about judgment or anything like that. You’re able to express emotions more purely and not worry about what people think of you.”
Up to now, there have been 15 students to help Mike with his duties, but these members of Team Mike stress there is only one Mike the Tiger.
“Mike is never in two places at once,” Member 13 said. “Two years ago, Mike was in Beijing the day before the Cotton Bowl, but there will never be two Mikes at one time.”
Aside from the demand of scheduling and professionalism, Mike must withstand physical challenges when performing and fulfilling spirited obligations.
On a normal game day, Mike tends to be 50 degrees hotter than the outside temperature, often reaching about 140 degrees, in which he has to run, jump and dance.
Crowd surfing, in particular, requires skill.
“It’s scary, being supported by drunk college kids,” Member 13 said. “I’ve been dropped, but it’s awesome. It’s just scary because visibility is very reduced, and I can’t see behind me, don’t know if there’s going to be another set of hands to push me up.”
Additional responsibilities — juggling classes, homework, social life and other jobs — add to the pressure.
Though friends and family are supportive, keeping up appearances can prove difficult.
“It’s hard to explain to some people,” Member 13 said. “My close friends understand, but it’s not hard to pick up on. It’s challenging to blatantly lie to people’s face that you’re not Mike the Tiger when people question why you have a giant hockey bag and are all sweaty. I’ll say I’m on LSU’s hockey team, I’m an equipment manager, I carry printers around in a bag or I work for maintenance. I have a lot of identities that I use to conceal what I do.”