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That time Auburn had a live tiger on the sideline at the Iron Bowl

UPDATE!

He ain’t heavy, he’s my tiger: What if the tiger was incorporated into the majorettes’ routine ala Cilly the Tiger Bride? Would THAT be OK, Plainsman?!?

A tiger, a live tiger on the sidelines with Shug and the boys, prowlin’ and growlin’ and being a tiger. It almost certainly happened, at least once—and it was a pretty big once: the 1957 Iron Bowl.

We’ve known for a year or so that woven into the epic Celtic knot that is Auburn mascot myth was a forgotten possibility of a footnote that once upon a time there was apparently a popular attraction at the Birmingham Zoo: the Auburn Tiger. But after it bailed (for whatever reason) on a scheduled appearance at the 1958 Beat Bama parade downtown, we thought we’d heard the last of the Auburn Tiger. But we hadn’t heard the last of the Auburn Tiger. Because we never heard the first of the Auburn Tiger.

From the Nov. 27, 1957 issue of The Plainsman:

300 Pound Animal To Growl At Bama In B’ham Saturday
The growl of an expensive, 300-pound tiger will rise out of Legion Field along with the cheers of Auburn fans Saturday at the Alabama game. The Auburn mascot has been borrowed from the Birmingham Zoo by Jack Mathews who is working with the Birmingham Alumni.
The total cost of the tiger cage, insurance, keeper, and food, according to Sonny Stein, chairman of the Spirit Committee, will be $400. The cost will be met by donations. Alpha Phi Omega and the Athletic Department have each made a donation and each fraternity and sorority have been asked to give $5. Those who would like to make donations can do so at the Student Government office or see Sonny Stein. The difference between the amount raised here and the $400 will be given by the Birmingham Alumni.
The cage must be bought now but on all other occasions when the mascot is borrowed the only expense will be for the insurance and keeper.
The tiger will also be in the parade in Birmingham which begins at 9 Saturday morning.

Yep, we caught it, too—”All other occasions?” This wasn’t going to be a one-off promo gimmick. This was a That Mike the Tiger is kinda cool kind of thing, an Auburn needs an actual power animal on the field kind of thing—The Plainsman later referred to the proposition as “the mascot idea,” i.e. the idea that Auburn needed a mascot. (War Eagle III didn’t arrive on the scene until 1960.)

The practice of bringing beasts on the field wasn’t unheard of. In addition to whatever exactly LSU was doing, Missouri had done it once or twice and Bama had been occasionally hosting an elephant on gamedays since the 1940s. But The Plainsman was dead set against it to the point of cattiness, as it were, to the extreme, even by 1950s Plainsman standards.

From the Nov. 11, 1957 issue:

The mascot idea has been dug up again.
The spirit committee scrounged around and borrowed a tiger cub from the Birmingham zoo for the Bama game.
It’s an excellent bringing-the-zoo-the-you idea. All we have to do is sit back in the stands and the bring the tiger in. Sort of like Super Circus.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s nothing better than Super Circus, but Legion Field next Saturday is not the place for it.
There’ll be some fine spirited play going on out on the football field. Most fans will keep their eye on the football—unless the score gets out of hand, then they may cast a curious glance at the mangy, gangling tiger cub moping in his cage on the sidelines.
(These same fans who are now watching the tiger used to watch the majorettes when the score got out of hand. We predict that fans will unanimously favor majorette watching over tiger watching when both appear game after game.)
Some people claim that a tiger will be a big boost to student spirit. This is ridiculous. When the novelty has worn off after a couple of games, a tiger on the sidelines will fire the students up just about as much as the flagpole back of the scoreboard does.
The tiger cub will be an unusual—but expensive—curio for the game Saturday. In all, the cost of a cage, insurance, and trainer to go along with the tiger will cost $400. Just for the one day.
The Alumni of Birmingham are footing the bill. May we suggest that they donate any money that they have further planned to spend on a mascot to some worthy campus project—or just give everybody bus fare out to the zoo.

Here’s the mangy, gangling little cur Bama went with for the ’57 Iron Bowl parade.

(That’s an anonymous editorial, but whoever wrote it was obviously a lion man, or maybe had a relative mauled by a tiger—or a tiger cub, because for whatever reason that’s apparently what they imagined it as—a mangy, mopish tiger cub. If it was a 300-pound mopish tiger cub, sure, that’d probably be a bad idea. Because 300 pounds is the average weight for a full-grown female tiger, and once that sucker beefed up with some anti-depressants, the eyes of Auburn fans would definitely not be on the game—A Mysterious Island-sized tiger devouring a punter? It’d be hard not to stare.)

Had the idea caught on, we might have avoided 50 years worth of confusion—and confusion over the confusion—over Auburn’s official nickname. Or we would have at least avoided some of it… unless of course we had decided to tempt instinctual animal fate with some sort of Tweety-Sylvester tag team scenario**

But unless The Plainsman convinced poor Sonny Stein that he was an idiot incapable of doing anything in service of Auburn spirit except killing the mascot idea just days before the Iron Bowl, it certainly seems as if it was tried at least that pretty big once.

 

* There aren’t any photos of the creature in the 1957 Glom’s celebration of the Auburn 40-0 Iron Bowl blowout, which seems a bit odd, and might possibly suggest that it the idea did, indeed, fall through, especially since a photo of the baby elephant Bama paraded through Birmingham was included in the Glom’s random what-a-year scrapbook feature. But Bama historians seem certain a tiger was at least in the Iron Bowl parade.

** It’s bad enough, I’m sure, with Aubie and Nova—or, even worse, Tiger—out there… and what if we’d gone with the giant eagle instead?—but the “Is It Tigers or War Eagles?” stress that would have come with Auburn fielding two live animal mascots? Media relations would have had to hire a full-time therapist.

Related: My Wife Was The Auburn Tiger.

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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