The beast may be caged, but the energy he creates is not.
“It’s one of the most spirited parts of the game,” LSU junior cheerleader Julie Rapp, of League City, Texas, said. “All the little kids love to see him and all the older fans love the tradition.”
In a unique custom that is an integral part of the LSU football game day experience, 16 LSU cheerleaders kick-start a vociferous LSU crowd by circling the Tiger Stadium turf atop a trailer before home games.
Inside that trailer is Mike VI, LSU’s live Siberian/Bengal tiger mascot.
It’s a joy ride — one that lasts anywhere from three to 10 minutes — experienced by only a few souls on but a few days each year and not again until next fall.
Members of the squad used words like “breathtaking,” “exhilaration” and “privilege” to describe the experience to the uninitiated.
“Not many people can say they’ve ridden on top of Mike the Tiger’s cage in front of 92,000 people,” LSU senior cheerleading captain Anthony Alexander, of New Orleans, said. “Just to be one of those select few people is pretty cool.”
This, of course, is all possible only if Mike is willing to enter the trailer. If trainers cannot coax him in, they will not force the issue. Mike declined for a couple of games this season.
“We never find out until an hour before, and we get so excited,” said LSU senior cheerleader Sadie Landrieu, of New Orleans. “It’s a privilege when we ride because it doesn’t happen all the time.”
And if he doesn’t come out?
“It’s heartbreak, man,” said LSU cheerleader Jordan Ezell, of Houma. “It upsets everybody. That’s what we love about the game, riding on top of the tiger cage. It’s like, ‘C’mon Mike! You can do it. Just get in.’”
If Mike does decide to join the festivities, cheerleaders prep the trailer for a brief spin around the stadium 38 minutes before kickoff. Two male cheerleaders climb a ladder at the front of the trailer and install safety rails so none fall off during the trip.
Wheels roll at the 35-minute mark.
The ride itself is an uncomfortable one. While the trailer is large enough to fit a 500-pound, 7-year-old jungle cat with some extra space to spare, the 16 cheerleaders must squeeze together on its roof.
“You forget how uncomfortable it is when you see the crowd,” Alexander said.
Ezell agreed. “We’re sandwiched up there. It’s so uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.”
The ride begins and ends in Tiger Stadium’s south end zone. As it meanders along the western sideline, cheerleaders prepare for the lone stop — in front of the LSU student section — and continue to the south end zone, conveniently in front of the visiting team’s field entrance.
Most opposing players steer clear, but on rare occasions a visiting player attempts to test the tiger’s true nature. It happened just before LSU’s tilt against Washington in early September.
“We were on top of Mike’s cage riding around, and when we got to the end zone a football player rammed the cage,” Rapp said. “It gave us a shake. We were all like, ‘What the heck?’ ”
LSU senior cheerleader Sadie Landrieu remembered the rattling, and said the cheerleaders did their best to retain their composure. “He punched it, and we were all like, ‘All right. Keep smiling.’ ”
Most of the reactions they witness are less surprising.
“(The opposing players) are kind of intimidated,” Ezell said. “I see a couple of hesitations. … They always go around the cage. I guess they’re not used to seeing a tiger. I know I would run away from it.”
Copyright © 2014, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved