MULE': Decades of Tiger-striped intimidation

They've frightened opponents – and they've scared admirers. They've been stolen, they've been stored, they've even been loose.

The tigers who have reigned over LSU athletics for 72 years have left an imprint on the psyches, good and not so good, of friend and foe alike.


When Mike V passed away last week, former Auburn coach and current sports commentator Terry Bowden remembered his first experience with the striped mascot. In 1993 Bowden brought his first Auburn team to Baton Rouge, where he had never been before. According to custom, Mike's caged trailer was parked just outside the visitors' locker room where opponents run onto the field. Bowden was wearing red pants, symbolic of the bloody 60-minute war he told his squad to expect.


As Bowden stepped out of the tunnel, oblivious to the fact he was within feet of a 500-pound carnivore, Mike let out an angry roar. Bowden jumped higher than he ever had before and took off for the sideline, catching and passing his fastest athletes. Bowden will tell you today he's never been more spooked – so much so he said he regretted not wearing brown pants.


Marty Broussard, the late trainer who plied his trade at LSU for five decades, loved telling the story of the 1947 Cotton Bowl, the famed "Ice Bowl'' in which the Tigers played Arkansas in Siberian weather conditions. In those days Mike I traveled to away games several times a season in his purple and gold trailer, and this time the frigid weather made the open sides extremely uncomfortable – and dangerous – for Mike.


By the time they reached Shreveport it was decided to find shelter for the animal, and a storage warehouse was found and rented. Mike was to spend the night in his trailer, but out of the cold in the facility. Unfortunately, not everyone was aware of who was being housed. An unaware night watchman entered the unlighted building around midnight to check things out. He thought he heard something, turned on his flashlight and called out.


From the dark recesses of the enclosure came a low growl. When the watchman looked, all he could make out in the distance was two slits of yellow eyes.


"That guy shot out of there so fast you almost couldn't see him,'' Broussard recalled. "It was like a cartoon. He hit that doorway and just flew up that highway in world-class time. I don't think he was ever seen again.''


Mike never did make it to the Cotton Bowl. He was sent home the next day. Thankfully.


Of course, the most famed incident was the night before the 1950 game with Tulane when the cage, with Mike inside, was spotted in the parking lot of an Uptown New Orleans eatery.


One of Mike's handlers, David Melilli, was inside Ye Olde College Inn having a sandwich with a Newcombe coed, while another LSU student left in search of a tarpaulin with which to cover the cage. The departure did not escape the notice of four Tulane students, who also sat inside the restaurant.


The Greenies decided Mike was lonely and the perfect cure would be a pleasant ride in an automobile . . . . one, preferably, with a trailer hitch, which they immediately set out to obtain.


And off they went in the early morning darkness. Mike got a grand tour of New Orleans – at least of Tulane's side of the tracks. Mike was quiet as a, well, a cat the entire trip.


The tour ended at an off-campus garage where Mike was put up the rest of the night.


A well-fed Melilli emerged from College Inn shortly before 2 a.m. to find Mike and his cage conspiculously absent.


The search began. When dawn arrived, the LSU posse became discouraged and called the police. "Yeah,'' they were informed by a gendarme at the Sixth District precinct, "we're looking for him. . . . he's probably green by now.''


Not quite. By 9:30 a.m., prowl cars were informed to be on the lookout for Mike and his cage, which by then had been slapped with olive green and blue paint and decorated with Tulane pennants.


Mike's temporary custodians also added what they considered a nice touch – a sign which read "Tulane 52, LSU 0,'' a hopeful forecast of that day's game in which the Green Wave – on a five-game victory streak – was a touchdown favorite over the Tigers.


The upshot was LSU officials threatened the Tulane administration to pull out of the game if Mike was not returned. Mike was found safe and sound, but the desecrated green cage made the football Tigers see red. LSU played Tulane off its collective cleats. The Green Wave got a touchdown in the final two minutes to get out with a 14-14 tie.


Some misguided Tulane "pranksters'' also figured in a potentially not-so-funny incident in 1981, just before the Greenie-LSU football game. In the early-morning hours they cut the locks to Mike IV's cage and he stepped out.


The tiger roamed around a short area between his shelter, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and the nearby Bernie Moore track and field stadium.


School was out for Thanksgiving, which cut down on the number people who might have happened by – with disastrous consequences. But Mike was just across the street from the married students apartments, meaning a potential calamity was just 50 yards away.


"Fortunately,'' said Paul Mannasseh, then the LSU sports information director, "Mike was more frightened than anybody.''


Campus police finally cornered Mike in the track stadium and tranquilized him.


But before they did, Mike playfully knocked down several small pine trees that lined a street. He crouched, then leaped onto the branches of one and  . . . C-R-R-R-A-A-C-C-C-K-K-K, split it almost in half.


"That,'' said one of the shaken by-standers, "was the most awesome thing I ever saw.''




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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