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At LSU, Mike the Tiger’s passing is more than just the loss of a mascot

Hearts are heavy in Baton Rouge because a campus centerpiece is gone.

Florida v LSU Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

LSU’s live tiger mascot, Mike VI, died by euthanasia on Tuesday. He lived to 11 years old, and he spent nine of those 11 years at LSU. In May, Mike VI was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, and he underwent radiotherapy.

The university has had six Mike the Tigers, starting in 1936. Over those 80 years, Mikes have become an important part of LSU’s community, even though Tigers are wild animals and not especially versed in conversations with humans.

You can expect these helmet decals to be just one of LSU’s tributes to Mike on Saturday. The Tigers play Southern Miss.

Here’s a really good column about this particular Mike and what he meant, from Scott Rabalais of The Advocate in Baton Rouge:

This wasn’t a person who died, but a large animal. Many people’s feelings for animals run deep, of course, but this was something more. More than just a caged beast, an object of curiosity, Mike VI for many people embodied the spirit of LSU as a school and as an athletic entity.

Part of that is gone now, and in this year of tragedy upon tragedy in Baton Rouge, dovetailed with an unsettling year of upheaval for LSU’s proud and beloved football program, it apparently reached a point that so many people were moved to come to this spot and reflect and leave something of their feelings on a warm and quiet afternoon.

The area outside Mike’s habitat has long been a touchstone in this town, a public-square-like gathering place, a type of tourist attraction. You come to Baton Rouge, the guidebooks should say, you eat the food and listen to the music and you see Mike the Tiger. And without him, nothing is quite the same.

This is a loss that cuts deep, whether you’re able to forge a deep personal connection with a tiger or not. My thoughts are with LSU, but they’re especially with the people who took care of Mike. The loss of a loved animal is a devastating thing.

The outpouring of emotion over Mike’s illness and death has been widespread.

A few other reads about Mike that I particularly liked: Spencer Hall on the contradictions he presented (plus other things) and Billy Gomila’s assessment of his meaning to people who love LSU. From Gomila’s:

Mike seemed to relish both the attention, and his new digs, running from corner to corner, sniffing, rolling around in the grass, leaping into his pool and getting nice and up close to his public at the viewing windows, especially the small children. It’s one of my most vivid memories from my time working at the university, and one that I know will always stay with me.

Mike VI always felt less like a stately, revered animal and more almost like a pet. Somebody you could go check out and watch play. He loved his habitat, and he almost seemed to want us to know that, even when he decided he didn’t want to leave it. He had personality. A very cat-like one but well...that’s what he was.

Before Mike went but after it was clear he would, The Missourian’s Brad Almquist did some good reporting on Mike and how his school felt about him.

Once Mike was gone, people turned out in droves to say goodbye.

The handlers of other mascots sent nice notes, too, because they know this stinks.

Thanks, Tusk! Arkansas' Razorback sent me flowers. #MascotsStickTogether

A photo posted by Mike VI, LSU's Live Mascot (@miketigervi) on

And flowers and good thoughts from Reveille! Thanks, @reveille_tamu and @tamu ! #mikevi #MascotsStickTogether

A photo posted by Mike VI, LSU's Live Mascot (@miketigervi) on

Mike used to go into a cage and get paraded around Tiger Stadium. It was always his choice. He stopped doing that more than a year ago, maybe because the atmosphere there was too raucous or maybe because he just didn’t like it.

That’s understandable. Animals being held captive to be mascots is sticky, no matter how well they’re treated. But LSU loved Mike, and his absence will leave a hole.