What an eye.
An enduring image of LSU football, menacing and, to opponents, dangerous, was illustrated by John Korver, a world renowned artist – and adventurer. It is an LSU icon, or it was: Mike stepping over the concrete ramparts of Tiger Stadium, his eyes intently focused, almost hypnotically, like that of all felines when they are locked onto prey.
The body of LSU's mascot, perfectly proportioned and innately relaying a sense of its power and strength, appears to be a step or two from a death-dealing pounce.
For a generation, that was the image of LSU football. "Tiger in the Stadium," provided a unique and unmistakable symbol, which graced Bayou Bengal schedule posters for two decades.
Then it disappeared.
A one-of-a-kind, picture-perfect illustration that provided instant identification with the LSU football program simply vanished from the Tigers' sports scene.
"I think it's a masterpiece," said Jack Gilmore, a retired LSU assistant athletic director, on whose home office wall hangs the original. "It's a real shame LSU doesn't use it anymore because it's unique."
"Tiger in the Stadium" was done away with in the early ‘80s under the regime of Bob Brodhead, who didn't like much of anything of LSU athletics, especially most of what was in place before he became athletic director. Brodhead disliked the school colors, the football uniforms, even having games broadcast on 50,000-watt New Orleans radio station WWL-AM, from which he extricated the Tigers for several years, successfully diluting LSU broadcasts to regional instead of national listening audiences.
Luckily, LSU is back on WWL and, despite the behind-the-scenes grousing of some of Brodhead's underlings, purple and gold remain the colors, and the uniform design is the same, more or less.
So, after everything was said and done – and the Brodhead era passed – the only thing familiar to LSU fans from the 1960s to the 1980s that is missing is "Tiger in the Stadium."
"It was original and striking," lamented former athletic director and coach Paul Dietzel, who preceded Brodhead and viewed the image both as an artist, which he is, and as a fan. "It was ideal for LSU."
"I never would have stopped using it," added Joe Dean, who followed Brodhead as LSU athletic director. "It's a classic."
* * *
What makes things worse are the ubiquitous LSU trademark symbols foisted on the fans today: a Tiger, with just its upper half showing, leaping over the block letters "LSU" with outstretched limbs, somewhat resembling a square dancer; and a tepid-looking tiger head that could pass for the cartoon character Sylvester the Cat.
"It's business," Skip Bertman, LSU's current AD, said. "Every few years, business people in college athletics think there is a need for new logos. This allows the schools to make more money. We all make something like 8 percent on merchandise with those logos, and when you have jersey or a T-shirt with a new logo, then you have a new product."
Artist John Korver
It is an irony that the current LSU trademarks cost a relative fortune and took months to conceptualize and make available to the Tiger athletic department. Phoenix Design Works of New York was selected in 2002 to come up with new symbols.
Eric Monday of the LSU's university business office was part of the team that made the choice and said Phoenix Design was chosen because they liked its previous work, particularly with Arkansas' newest logos.
The cost to LSU was $65,000.
"Tiger in the Stadium" was finished in a day and a half, and the cost to LSU was approximately $37, an estimate of Korver's pay for that amount of time.
* * *
An internationally known artist whose works still hang in collections throughout the United States and Europe, Korver (1910-1989) was a Dutchman who lived much of his early adult life in the East Indies and Sumatra. His pastimes were hunting tigers in the remote areas of Southeast Asia and sailing the seven seas – and his paintings of seascapes would become Korver's trademark works.
Korver's life, and that of most inhabitants of that region, was put on hold when the Japanese began taking control of that part of the world. He was thrown into a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia, from which he eventually escaped.
After World War II, Korver and his wife returned to The Netherlands where his paintings received more and more notice.
In the early 1960s, trying to utilize his talents for its greeting cards, The American Card Co. brought Korver and his family to the U.S. But while in Cleveland, Ohio, Korver's wife became ill. The diagnosis was that she had a form of Hanson's Disease, leprosy.
At the time, the best place in the world for treatment of this affliction was Carville, La., where she was admitted. Looking for a job to be near his wife, Korver found there was an opening at the University Relations Department at LSU and inquired about it. He got the job and coincidently worked with, and later for, another former POW, Oscar Richard, who was shot down over Europe.
"John worked at LSU from 1963 through 1968," Richard, now retired, said after checking records, "and his highest salary was $500 a month."
* * *
At the same time, LSU athletics was getting by with just the basics. There was little imagination put into things like logos or schedules – things that might appeal to a growing fan base.
"In 1958, when we won the national championship," said former LSU sports information director Bud Johnson, "all we had for schedules were little cards with a little slogan saying all our away opponents, except Miami, were in easy driving distance. That was it. There was nothing flashy or memorable about it."
In 1963, Jim Corbett, then the LSU AD, wanted something more colorful, more exciting to link the Tigers with their fans. He went over to University Relations and asked Richard if there was an artist there who might be able to help him. "I told him I thought maybe so and called John over, and Jim explained what he wanted."
In a day and a half, Korver had it done. Never went over to the tiger cage to look at Mike, never took out a book for pictures of tigers. Just found masonite to work on and started creating the 15 x 23 painting (which was reduced to 10 x 14 for the schedule poster).
"It just blew me away when I saw it," Johnson recalls. "It was breathtaking."
That was the consensus throughout the athletic department and across Louisiana, where the image with the LSU schedule seemed almost universal in store windows and gas stations from the Ark-La-Tex to the Gulf of Mexico. It stayed that way for 20 years when the logo was done away with, though not completely.
When LSU celebrated the 100th anniversary of its football program, the centennial design was that of a tiger coming out of the stadium. Not a replica of the original, but a reminder. Herb Vincent, an assistant AD who worked on the project, said, "That was done purposely."
* * *
That memorable symbol is not all Korver left for LSU when his wife improved and they moved to San Francisco. The snarling Tiger still used on LSU's helmets were also his handiwork.
* * *
"I thought "Tiger in the Stadium" was just fantastic," Gilmore said. "John saw me admiring it, asked me if I liked it, then told me I could have it for $50."
It's been dominating his wall for more than four decades now. "Fifty dollars?" Gilmore said. "I'll tell you, to me that picture is priceless."
Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.
MULE': Korver had the true "Eye of the Tiger"
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