Mike the Tiger, LSU's regal mascot for the last 16 years, died early Friday morning. His passing was major news across Louisiana (here and here).
While it might seem trivial to some, in Louisiana Mike was much more than simply a living symbol of the ferociousness of the school's fabled sports teams.
Like the four tigers that preceded him, Mike V was a revered member of the LSU family and a critical player in the pageantry that helps make LSU special to so many of us.
He lived out his last years in this $3 million habitat -- built with donations and decorated Friday with a memorial wreath -- in the shadows of Tiger Stadium and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
I have fond memories of watching Mike grow into a big, strapping cat in the early 1990s.
He was an important part of my personal football game ritual. I always stopped by his cage after arriving on campus. And I usually made it to my seat inside the stadium in time to watch Mike circle the field in his golden, cheerleader-topped trailer (see next pics).
And I loved introducing people to Mike during their first visit to LSU's campus.
If I closed my eyes when Mike's roar thundered over the stadium PA system in front of the euphoric (and inebriated) student section, it wasn't much of a leap to imagine being in Rome's Coliseum awaiting the arrival of the city's heroic gladiators.
I have no doubt that a Mike VI will be there in September when the football team plays its first game.
But many of us will miss and warmly remember Mike V for years to come, in part because of his special disposition. His Web site, here, says this about him: "Of all the tigers that have served as LSU' s mascot, Mike V has the best personality and has been the easiest to handle."
Read what others have written about Mike's passing at this special memorial Web site.