So, a tiger shows up at Huskies football practice no, this isn’t the beginning of a lame joke.
On Tuesday, an actual Bengal tiger, a 16-month-old, 300-pound beast named Sheena, greeted University of Washington players when they walked through the practice field gates.
She wasn’t running free; she was safely contained in a large cage. Still, it was a mildly unnerving sight few people have experienced.
“It was pretty funny, when I ran out I was like, ‘Ohhh! There’s a tiger here!’” said linebacker Travis Feeney. “I thought, ‘Why is there a tiger here at practice?’”
Well, there’s a logistical reason. Sort of.
When the Huskies travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday to face No. 3 LSU at Tiger Stadium, they will be greeted by more than 90,000 screaming fans and a live Bengal tiger as they walk onto the field from their locker room. Mike VI – all 800 furry pounds of him – will be sitting in his massive cage on wheels right next to the entrance. It’s a little form of intimidation the Tigers like to use against opponents.
“It can all be kind of a distraction,” said defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who faced LSU as a coach with Tennessee in 2010.
So Sarkisian decided to limit the surprise factor by bringing a tiger directly to his players.
“I thought it was a pretty neat deal Sark did that,” Wilcox said. “I think the kids thought it was pretty cool.”
They also understood the message.
“The whole emphasis is just to get used to it now, so when we get down there no one is surprised or gets distracted by it,” said center Drew Schaefer. “It’s to focus on the task at hand.”
The players were quite intrigued; a big crowd gathered around after practice. Offensive tackle Micah Hatchie seemed to be having a staring contest with Sheena for minutes on end.
“That thing is cool,” he said.
Sheena was brought up from “A Walk on the Wild Side” – a nonprofit game preserve and refuge in Canby, Ore. At just over a year old, she is still growing into her massive paws.
“She will double in size,” said Steve Higgs, the animal’s handler and preserve manager. “She will be more than 600 pounds.”
The tradition of using a live Bengal tiger as the LSU mascot began in 1934 when a small group of individuals, led by athletics director T.P. Heard, raised $750 to purchase a 200-pound, year-old tiger from the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas.
The tiger was originally named Sheik after its father. But LSU officials changed his name to Mike in honor of Mike Chambers, the athletic trainer, who came up with the idea of getting a live mascot.
The original Mike served as mascot for 20 years before dying of pneumonia in 1956.
Mike III had Northwest roots. He was acquired from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle after a national search. In his first year as mascot – 1958 – LSU won the national championship. He would serve as mascot for the next 18 years before dying in 1975 shortly after a 5-6 LSU season. Three tigers have followed in his pawsteps.
Mike VI has been the mascot since 2007. He lives in a massive 15,000-square-foot habitat across from Tiger Stadium. Before games, Mike will ride around Tiger Stadium in his cage with members of the cheerleading teams sitting on it.
It’s doubtful tiger preparation will improve the Huskies’ fortunes Saturday. Washington is a 24-point underdog to a legitimate national title contender. The Tigers have NFL prospects at almost every position with more in the waiting.
In the end, learning to talk tiger likely won’t help Washington’s offensive line contain LSU’s defensive ends. It won’t help the linebackers tackle LSU’s cadre of talented running backs.
But it was still something different and fun on a tough, intense day of practice.
“It’s pretty cool,” said offensive tackle Erik Kohler. “It’s not every day you are face-to-face with a tiger.”
Princeton Fuimaono (concussion) wore a yellow no-contact jersey at practice. Kohler and Mike Criste both took first-team reps at right tackle, but Kohler will likely be the starter. True freshman running back Erich Wilson II and walk-on Willis Wilson got some reps with the first-team offense as Bishop Sankey’s email@example.com