BATON ROUGE, La. — The definition of charm is the ability to win the unwavering affection of those who you might otherwise be tempted to eat if left to your own devices.
It was the impish spirit of Mike VI, LSU’s live tiger mascot, that won the hearts of so many and led hundreds of LSU fans to attend a memorial service organized by LSU’s student government association in front of Mike’s former enclosure.
“He endeared himself to all of us, because he was always so cub-like,” said Baton Rouge resident Cindy Marrus. “He was playful. He was friendly.”
Marrus felt a special connection to the mascot because she moved from Shreveport the same week Mike arrived on campus in 2007.
“We had just moved to an apartment near here, and heard there was a new tiger,” she said. “But (that) he probably wouldn’t come out.”
Fortunately Marrus didn’t listen to the naysayers. Mike was out in his yard that day, just the third after he moved from a big cat rescue center in Indiana.
That memory was on Marrus’ mind when she wrote a note of condolence, just as nearly everyone else in attendance did, making it feel more like a human had passed on than a cat.
“(I wrote) that I was blessed enough to see him on his third day here,” Marrus said, choking up. “There were children around and he swam up and put his paw up on the glass.”
Small children made up much of the crowd at the service, and created much of the artwork adorning the glass around Mike’s enclosure.
One such drawing evoked the most emotion. It was a picture of a tiger — or at least what a tiger looks like in the scribble of a young child who hasn’t quite mastered staying between the lines — with the message “i Miss You. Mike” underlined above it.
Another note, written by a student, was signed “Love, Your fav. redhead.”
Someone else who didn’t have any paper on their person just slapped a receipt from the LSU gift shop on the glass and wrote “You will be missed Mike VI” on the back.
Reading the notes touched Baton Rouge resident Mack Bradley, until he finally got to one that made him laugh.
“It’s really hard for me seeing all the signs,” Bradley said. “Until I saw the one that said ‘We’ll kick Bama’s ass for you.’ That lightened me up a bit.”
Bradley is a Southern Miss graduate, and ironically the Golden Eagles are LSU’s first opponent after Mike’s death. Bradley said regular visits to Mike’s enclosure built a connection with the school he did not attend.
“If I’m an LSU fan, it’s probably because of Mike,” Bradley said. “I just loved looking at him.”
So much so that he may go turncoat on his alma mater this Saturday night.
“After seeing what’s happened in the last week with Mike, I’ll probably be pulling for LSU.”
With a grin, he added, “But I wouldn’t go home and say that.”
Mike’s presence will be missed the most by students, who got to walk past him every day as they went to class.
“It’s like he was everyone’s big house cat. Everyone knows Mike,” said David Ifland, a junior from DeRidder, La. “He was the figurehead of LSU. He might eat any one of us if given the chance. But having that power and majesty roaming around here on campus is just really cool. People are connected to him.”
Ifland also is a member of the Golden Band from Tigerland, so he got an up-close view of when Mike would be rolled around Tiger Stadium in his cage before games.
“It was fun freshman year to see him come out a few times and be paraded on the field,” Ifland said.
The sixth-generation Mike was the most notorious for his disinterest in getting into the cage for pregame festivities, much to the chagrin of some long-time fans.
But his stubbornness made him all the more endearing to people like Marrus.
“I loved that he wouldn’t go into the tiger trailer when he didn’t want to go,” she said. “I loved the attitude.”
Those who said their farewells to Mike VI hope his successor will be just as memorable.
“I hope he has the personality,” Bradley said. “But I (mostly) hope it gets another cat out of a bad situation.”
“I want him to have a happy life here,” Ifland said. “Of course the vet program that’s here just down the road does a great job taking care of him. No doubt he’ll be a happy, pampered tiger who loves being an LSU Tiger just like the rest of us.”