He’s an LSU icon, a staple in University athletics. He’s known for his wacky team spirit, confident strut and goofy antics. He has a way with the ladies, and he’s always hanging out with the cheerleaders and Tiger Girls. He never misses a football game and even has his own jersey, along with a designated spot on the field. Meet Mike the Tiger.
MAKING TEAM MIKE
Every April, potential Mike the Tigers gather at the Carl Maddox Field House for a three-day audition process. Typically, about 10 people show up for tryouts, but Team Mike captain Reese Smith says the Spirit Squad is hoping to get that number up to 30 next year. The candidates spend the first afternoon in “Mike 101,” a crash course introduction to the character of Mike and his signature walk.
Friday night concludes with the first round of cuts. The potential Mikes don the tiger costume and are individually evaluated based on height and fit of the suit. Most of the audition process is anonymous, as candidates dress in the tiger suit with only numbers attached for identification, says LSU Spirit Squad Director Pauline Zernott.
Mastering Mike’s character is the key to securing a coveted spot on Team Mike, but it’s a task easier said than done.
“Mike is very cocky,” Smith says. “He’s a cocky, ADD cat who’s also a ladies man.”
Smith, a construction management senior, knew he wanted to be the man behind the tiger after he watched Mike on the field as a student, but Smith’s dream wasn’t realized yet. He had to try out three times before finally making the team.
“Then, once you actually come to a tryout and see Mike, you still get excited,” Smith says. “It’s an experience that not many people get to do.”
The Mikes are primarily judged on their ability to fill out the Mike suit and maintain uniformity between different Mikes in the costume, Zernott says. The Mikes must also be able to improvise to different songs with a variety of props while portraying Mike’s cocky, playful character.
The mascot hopefuls spend the second day of tryouts attempting to better channel Mike. They may practice interacting with Tiger Girl volunteers and playing with Mike’s props, such as the giant Nintendo game controller that he brought on the field in Dallas, to get more comfortable in the bulky suit, Smith says.
Sunday, the last day of tryouts, consists of one-on-one interviews with Zernott and Smith after the pool of potential Mikes has been narrowed down followed by a final audition, Smith says. During the audition, the Mikes must stay in character while performing the pregame walk and pretending to hype up a crowd.
Final selections are dependent on the number of Mikes needed, Zernott says.
“If we have a strong group of Team Mike, and we want to continue with those people, we may only need one or two spots filled,” Zernott says.
This year’s seven members represent the largest Team Mike thus far, Zernott says. The size of Team Mike can vary between five and seven members.
Post-audition, Team Mike is a yearlong commitment of 20 hours per week. The Mikes receive a $500 scholarship per semester, plus an extra $250 each year they’re on the team, Smith says. Mike attends athletic, corporate, campus and charitable events throughout the year as well as one hour of practice each week. During practice, Team Mike reviews event logistics, rehearses routines with the Tiger Girls and cheerleaders and coordinates prop usage.
A GAMEDAY IN THE LIFE
Saturday night in Death Valley is a time-honored tradition for LSU football fans, one that wouldn’t be complete without Mike the Tiger. For Team Mike, gameday is equal parts excitement and exhaustion.
A typical game day with a 6 p.m. kickoff starts around noon. All seven Team Mike members arrive at the Carl Maddox Field House to prepare their costumes and props for the day. The first Mike will suit up, while the rest of the team boards a golf cart. From about 1 to 2 p.m., the team will ride around campus and visit unsuspecting tailgates, armed with silly string. After an hour, it’s another Mike’s turn. The team switches in and out of the costume, so that one person doesn’t get overheated.
Two hours before kickoff, the Mikes will return to gear up for the walk down Victory Hill. Five Mikes will go to the hill, while two mascots stay behind in the PMAC for an appearance before the pregame. Just as the Mikes enter the arena, they’re out and headed toward Tiger Stadium. The Mikes use the next hour to cool off and prepare for the pregame. During each quarter of the game, a different Mike appears before the crowd.
Smith recalls his first experience as Mike the Tiger at last season’s college gameday, when LSU played the Wisconsin Badgers at Lambeau Field.
“That was insane because I was nervous,” Smith said. “Your first few games, even though no one can see you, you still get that nervous feeling that the cheerleaders and Tiger Girls get because you don’t want to mess up.”
Team Mike tries to maintain some anonymity, Smith says. The Mikes are allowed to tell their families, but they usually refrain from talking openly about being Mike.
“We will say we are part of Team Mike, but that’s only if people ask,” Smith says. “We aren’t allowed to tell our friends, but they usually just end up figuring it out.”