“Is Pam there?”
“You mean the Auburn Tiger?”
Yes, “the Auburn Tiger” — that’s how Pam Smith’s husband Larry proudly referred to her when I called to make sure I had the right person. And I sure did. The title may not accompany her name in the 1971 Glomerata, but dang if that isn’t what she looks like in the photo, lying on the field in front of the cheerleaders in a plush, hooded (with ears) tiger-striped jumpsuit.
“My mother had the tiger outfit made for me,” says Smith, who graduated from Auburn (as Pam Nelson) in 1972 and currently works alongside Larry, also an Auburn graduate, as an artist in Norcross, Ga. “She was excited that I did it.”
But what exactly did she do? And how did she get to start doing it? And wait, wait, wait—are we actually about to punk Aubie with some sort of Maury-styled historical paternity test? “You are NOT Auburn’s first tiger mascot…”
“I guess you might call it a pre-mascot kind of a thing,” Smith says. “But there was actually another student who was the Auburn Tiger right before me. He was the Auburn Tiger and then he graduated.”
The name of her ancestor? She can’t remember, and there isn’t another “Auburn Tiger” listed or pictured in an earlier yearbook, making the origins of the role even more mysterious. All Smith remembers is that she was hanging out in the old gymnasium one day—she grew up in south Florida and was into gymnastics and everything… not competitively, but she was pretty good—and What’s His Name saw her doing some moves, came up to her, “and said something about ‘you should try out for the Auburn Tiger.'”
If memory serves, she was the only person who did.
“I was very nervous,” Smith says. “I don’t know why I did it. It was not typical of me, being the introvert that I was, but I did it and made it.”
And so for two seasons (1970-71), every time Auburn ran onto the field at then Cliff Hare Stadium—and occasionally elsewhere—there was a cute blonde girl in a tiger outfit flipping down the field in front of them, leading them.
“Then I’d go near the cheerleaders and I might do some of the cheers with them,” Smith says. “If we scored a touchdown or something, I might do a round-off back handspring.”
It being the Sullivan to Beasley glory days, she did a lot of round-off back handsprings. If it was hot enough, she might sweat off five pounds a game. When she was finished, she’d have the suit dry cleaned, then hang it back up in her closet.
“We must have given it to Auburn, because we don’t have it now.”
Smith says the cheerleaders were all about her contributions. Ditto Dean Foy.
“But it was more or less an independent thing. I wasn’t given funds for it or anything. It wasn’t like the Aubie now. It was kind of a freewheeling mascot.”
For a more freewheeling time in general; in terms of fan-player interaction, football games in Auburn up through the early 80s were less arena rock and more house show.
Now patrolled by the yellow windbreaker army, the invisible line separating the Jordan-Hare stands from the sidelines would kind of blur once the clock ran out. Kids scavenged the field for chin straps. They begged for autographs.
And apparently mascot gigs.
Smith’s tour of duty actually overlapped with that of the precocious Holloway brothers, junior versions of the same shtick (plus a tail, but minus the coordination). The Holloway’s involvement—Jay for several years… his picture was included next to Smith’s on the cheerleader’s page in the ’72 Glom… until he turned eight and had his own stuff to do on Saturdays, and later younger brother Jeff—is even more curious. One former cheerleader told me “I think his parents just dressed him up, and later a younger brother, and put them on the field.” If they had any credentials or connections to the program beyond showing up in their own tiger outfits and looking cute, Smith doesn’t remember them.
Not that she’s one to talk—looking cute and showing up wasn’t even enough for her once. In 1970, when she drove to Gainesville for Auburn’s Oct. 31 showdown with the Gators, one of the few away games she traveled to in her unofficially official capacity, she almost wasn’t allowed inside the stadium “because they thought I was just dressed up for Halloween. I ended up having to find one of the cheerleaders so she could tell them ‘yes, she’s supposed to be here.'”
Basically, the Holloways just wanted to be just like her.
“Kids loved the tiger,” she says. “Shakin’ hands and huggin’ kids. It was a lot of fun.”
And it brought an introvert (who went to Auburn mainly because her brother went to Auburn) out of her shell, pom-poms first.
“It wasn’t really me, but it made me excited about Auburn,” she says. “It was such a fantastic thing.”
“My husband will still say ‘my wife was the Auburn Tiger.'”