April 17, 2011 by David Gillaspie
Dateline Baton Rouge, La.
What does it mean when you read about a college upgrading their athletics, that they want their football program to be more competitive?
They want to be LSU.
Does your favorite college have a football stadium built with freshman dorms included in the plans?
How about a basketball arena across the street with the name of a legend hanging on the front?
Not every school has the personnel to get it done; Pete Maravich isn’t walking through your door, but he sure did at LSU.
Between Tiger Stadium and PMAC is Mike the mascot.
Georgia has their bulldog, Colorado their buffalo. The Sooner Schooner rolls in Oklahoma and a Trojan rides at USC.
Mike would take them all out. Mike is a real tiger. You’ve been to the zoo, you know what a tiger looks like. Unlike the zoo tiger who walks around then lays down, Mike stalks his territory and pounces.
In what could only be described as a miracle, a middle aged man with a cane watched Mike running. The man wore his LSU gear like everyone else, dropped his cane, and started running with Mike on the safe side of the double layered chain link fence.
“It’s not that unusual you can talk to a tiger and know he understands,” the man said.
Mike understood something and the disabled man ran with tiger blood in his heart and a cigarette on his lips.
SEC country is different from PAC 12 country, my home conference. It’s different from Oregon, but the gap is closing. These teams play each other this season in Texas, so the gap will change further.
Or will it?
Tiger Stadium looks like the old and the new, as if an architect did a re-fit on an ancient ruin to add forty thousand more seats.
The basketball arena looks like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which might explain the other world appearance of Shaquille O’Neal.
In contrast, Oregon plays its games in the most advanced facilities in the nation. You’ve read about Autzen Stadium and Matthew Knight Arena? They are beautiful, but are they enough to raise Oregon to LSU standards?
The answer lies in a local rib house, TJ’s Ribs. That’s where Billy Cannon’s 1959 Heisman spins in a special exhibit. That’s where the 2003 BCS trophy sits.
You get the idea. That’s also where you get a stack of fried green tomatoes, fried mojos, fried eggplant, fried catfish, fried chicken, and then the namesake.
You get beef ribs, pork ribs, baby back ribs, red beans and rice in quantity and quality.
After Oregon played Auburn, another SEC tiger, in the last BCS Bowl they came away saying they needed size up front.
If the Oregon bigs have been eating off the menu at TJ’s Ribs, they’ll close the gap. If Mike the Tiger shows up, run.
Mike likes to run. While he doesn’t chase anyone down during football games he does come out at midnight near the offices of The Daily Reveille, LSU’s paper. Mike’s guys call the office to tell them to stay inside.
Imagine you’re new on campus and didn’t know Mike’s routine. There you are turning a corner and you see the most fearsome sight in college football staring at you.
Army has mules. Navy has a goat. Mike calls them snacks, the same way LSU football would treat those teams on the field.
Texas A&M used to inspire students with a bonfire until their tragic mishap. What spirit does Mike bring forth from his cage inside Tiger Stadium when the roar of the fans reaches a peak?
Will Mike make the roadie to the Cowboy’s home field? If he does, will the Ducks take it in stride and push back?
Facing two SEC Tigers in one year is a lot to ask, but that’s what they do in big boy football.