In 1983, an art professor designed a midfield logo for Tiger Stadium. It is now an LSU icon
It was inspired by a case of mistaken identity. It was resurrected by the man LSU fans have grown to dislike and fear.
From such odd beginnings, the Eye of the Tiger logo at midfield in Tiger Stadium has endured to become an icon, perhaps as much a staple of Saturday nights in Death Valley as double-standard goalposts and the LSU band’s pregame march while blaring out “Hold That Tiger.”
Nearly 30 years ago, an LSU professor named Don Bruce was approached by late athletic director Bob Brodhead to commission an eye logo that would become the stadium’s centerpiece.
Bruce, who taught art and later architecture, had been involved in painting the field in Tiger Stadium since the late 1960s.
It was Bruce who designed the numbers painted every 5 yards on the field (though why LSU has numbers on the field ever 5 yards, instead of every 10 like most schools, predates even him). He also painted the end zones with the old thick-lettered “LSU” that predated the current “Geaux” font, which has become ubiquitous throughout the campus.
The logo was inspired by the song “Eye of the Tiger” from the 1982 movie “Rocky III,” though not exactly for the reasons it was intended.
“Brodhead had heard about that song, and he asked if I thought we could do it,” Bruce said.
“I told him we would try. I sketched it out, and I said I thought it would work, and we did it.”
As Bruce recalls, Brodhead thought the song was written by an LSU graduate, perhaps confusing it with the original “Rocky” theme, written by LSU graduate and composer Bill Conti (“Eye of the Tiger” was written by Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik of the group Survivor).
Despite the misconception, plans for the new logo went forward. Bruce sketched out several forms of it, and drew an enlarged version of it on a plastic tarp.
Bruce cut holes in the tarp to allow “dots” of paint to appear on the turf. Bruce would then go back with his sketch in hand and fill in the pattern with the appropriate purple, gold or white paint.
The eye made its debut on Oct. 15, 1983, for LSU’s homecoming game against Kentucky. The Tigers lost 21-13, and not long after, the eye lost its place on the field.
LSU stopped using the eye logo during Joe Dean’s tenure as athletic director in the late 1980s. During the years that the Eye of the Tiger logo wasn’t used, block LSU letters were used at midfield, and before that, a state of Louisiana with the school letters over it.
“Junk,” Bruce said. “I did it, but we were just fishing around trying to find something.”
When Nick Saban took over as LSU’s head coach going into the 2000 season, he was shown the eye logo and insisted that it return to midfield.
It has remained ever since, a symbol of the Tigers’ team spirit — spirit that Saban and his Alabama team will try to crush Saturday when the Crimson Tide visits Tiger Stadium for a primetime 7 p.m. showdown on CBS.
Opposing teams sometimes dare to stomp on the eye, as if hoping that by doing so, they will somehow diminish the Tigers’ energy and increase visitors’ already slim odds of winning.
Some South Carolina players stepped on the eye during warmups for LSU’s last home game Oct. 13.
It didn’t help. The Tigers outgained the Gamecocks 406-211 and won 23-21, extending LSU’s school record and the nation’s longest current home winning streak to 22 games.
Soon after the eye logo returned to the field in 2000, LSU started using it on souvenir items like shirts and caps and flags.
Bruce said he was paid for the original logo on a per-hour basis, but never had it copyrighted.
Neither, to LSU’s surprise, had the school. Bruce and LSU soon reached a settlement to allow the eye logo to be used on official merchandise.
Bruce didn’t disclose how much he got, but said he feels the settlement was fair.
“My copyright attorney said during the negotiations, ‘I don’t think we can go any higher. They’ve got all the money and they can stall this forever.’ ”
At 84, Bruce doesn’t go to games at Tiger Stadium anymore, content to watch the games from his home near Webb Park.
But he always makes sure he takes a look at how the eye logo is looking these days. He said it has changed in subtle ways, most notably with a harder edge to it compared to the way he originally “feathered” the paint to make it fade out at the edges.
Bruce has become comfortable that the eye logo has become his unlikely and enduring legacy.
“I taught 27 years out there at that place (LSU), and the only thing that anybody knows I did is that eye,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s great. I hope it goes on forever.”