LSU: The best place for college football

Through Charlotte wilder
FOX Sports Columnist

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – According to Dr. David Baker, chief veterinarian of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, the tiger is the most represented animal in the world. That is, there are more drawings, paintings, sculptures, tapestries – name it – of tigers than of any other animal.

I’ve been trying to google this fact for an hour and can’t verify it, but I’m inclined to believe Baker. Tigers are everywhere. They are on t-shirts, they are on lamps, they are on ancient cave walls. There is something about tigers that for thousands of years has forced humans to try and capture their essence.

And after this week, I understand what it is. Because this week I met Mike the Tiger at LSU. And today, after visiting Tiger Stadium as part of the Dos Equis Ultimate College Football Road Trip, I also understand why LSU is the best place in the world to experience college football.

But first, Mike.

I didn’t just meet him: Baker opened a door and led me into an enclosure that allowed me to approach the tiger closer than the public usually allows. While I was interviewing Baker, Mike would periodically come up behind me and rub his face against the fence, like a house cat coming to greet me before walking away to find a sunny spot in the living room. I felt his fur touch my back.

Baker has a special relationship with Mike because Baker has been the tiger vet at LSU for over 20 years now. This current tiger is Mike VII, and Baker was the man responsible for the previous two Mikes before him.

There is clearly a trust between the man and the beast, which I guess happens when you have raised two other tigers and are the closest person to Mike VII since the little bear cub arrived at LSU. at the age of 11 months from a rescue center.

The Mikes IV, V and VI also came from the rescue facilities. The last tiger purchased by LSU was Mike III in 1958, and the university no longer supports for-profit tiger breeding. They see tradition and the campus sanctuary as a way to bring relief to an animal that would otherwise be in illegal and often horrific conditions.

“The habitat was designed by an architect specializing in animal enclosures, a graduate of LSU, and it incorporated natural substrates, so [Mike] does not need to walk on concrete and in a place where it can protect itself from bad weather at any time of the day, ”said Baker. “It’s irregular in shape, so the view is interesting to look at both inside and out. water: tigers and jaguars are natural swimmers and are never found in the wild far from water, so this was very important to him. “

Mike the Tiger rests in his habitat, designed by an architect specializing in animal enclosures. (Photo by John Korduner / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LSU no longer brings Mike to the games either, and two veterinary students each year are allowed to work with Mike for two years after completing a four-month apprenticeship.

Not everyone thinks it is good or ethical for a school to have a tiger living on its campus, but even PETA has said that LSU is “going in the right direction” and is an example of how schools with live mascots should treat their animals. Mike even received an animal-approved COVID vaccine; Baker gave the tiger the required two doses once LSU was taken off the waitlist for the specific protein shot.

When I asked if I could stroke Mike I received a solidify no, but Baker ran his hands through the chain link fence and scratched Mike’s back as Mike “huffed” which is the purr of a tiger. And it turns out that being this close to a 410 pound wild animal has been one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was spiritual in a way I find it hard to describe, but it clearly shows why humans have been making art on tigers for so long.

Mike is so handsome and strong that he takes your breath away. He looks enough like a house cat to feel familiar (and it took everything I didn’t have to touch and stroke him), but so oversized he was a stranger. I was close to something so primitive that it almost shouldn’t have existed in physical form.

Mike is huge, but he moves with grace and quiet power when he’s happy. Which he usually is. He does, however, give off the vibe that at any point there is the possibility of an explosion simmering just below his striped coat.

It is for these many reasons that 56 colleges or universities in the United States have a tiger mascot. A tiger is everything a winning sports team wants to be – unpredictable and intimidating, with the potential to absolutely take down an enemy with the blast of the whistle.

But only LSU has a real tiger. Which feels great, LSU-y.

Earlier today, before I met Mike, I visited Tiger Stadium. The stadium and Mike are slightly spooky and majestic in the same way. The stadium even built those old dormitories that no one has been in – let alone lived in – for years.

During the Great Depression, the college had to find a way to accommodate students at a low cost, and also wanted to increase the number of seats at Tiger Stadium. The university had the funds to add dormitories, but none to expand the stadium, so they built the dormitories in the stadium and glued seats to them.

The whole structure is very sparse. Every concrete column, every steel beam and every screw can be seen throughout the 102,000-seat stadium. I got chills walking the empty lot knowing that a full crowd is capable of such a noise that it registers on a seismograph.

LSU and Mike don’t have to strive to be harsh, don’t have to strive to be intimidating, don’t have to strive to be something other than they are: slightly haunted, almost indecipherable and naturally sure of themselves. This place is Gothic in the truest sense of the word – a little supernatural, like an old empty cathedral.

There’s a reason these are the words of the hype video that plays before every game:

“There is a pantheon of concrete and steel. It is a city that rises quietly in the delta alongside the father of the waters. It is the humidity of autumn evenings that great majestic oaks and large magnolias. She’s haunted and she’s loud. is Halloween night and the cannon shots. It is a Louisiana gum bowl of moisture that encourages its tigers to victory and destroys the dreams of side enemies. There is never a risk of rain. It is the cathedral of college football and worship takes place here when the sun finds its hold in the western sky. It is a field of glory, but much more than that. It is a sacred place.

Tiger Stadium is an awesome site… and an intimidating place for LSU opponents. (Photo by Steve Franz / Louisiana State University / Getty Images)

There’s a reason this team plays in a place dubbed Death Valley. There is a reason for the quiet confidence of this campus, of this whole city. As I walked through the skeleton-like stadium, I felt that he had forgotten more secrets than I will ever know.

But I know this: I haven’t even seen a game yet and I am convinced that this is the best place in college football. There is nowhere as inherently cool as LSU. There is only one Mike, but there is a legacy of many.

There is nowhere more alive and more ghostly at the same time.

Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and co-host of “The popular sport podcastfor FOX Sports. She’s honored to represent the consistently overlooked Boston area in sports media, enjoys talking to sports fans about their feelings, and is happier eating a hot dog at a stadium or nachos at a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.

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