A 300-pound Bengal tiger — caged — greeted Husky players as they arrived for practice Wednesday in Seattle, before their trip to LSU this weekend.
Washington linebacker Travis Feeney turned the corner, walked through a gate into practice Tuesday and had a question.
“A tiger? Why do we have a tiger here?” Feeney asked.
Then he realized — the Huskies play at LSU, the Tigers, Saturday night in Baton Rouge, La. And in one of the more enduring traditions in college sports, LSU’s live tiger mascot is a fixture at home games.
The tiger — the current mascot is named Mike VI — is stationed outside the visitors’ locker room before the game and opposing players have no choice but to walk by him on their way in.
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So the surprise greeting Tuesday — the sight of a 300-pound Bengal tiger named Sheena as UW players walked into practice — had a strategic purpose.
“The whole emphasis of it was just to get used to it now so when we get down there, no one will be surprised or caught off-guard,” said senior center and team captain Drew Schaefer.
Husky coach Steve Sarkisian — who was not available for comment, as is customary on Tuesdays — apparently thought of the idea a few months ago. The school contacted A Walk on the Wild Side, a wildlife preserve in Canby, Ore.
The tiger’s handler, Steve Higgs, said his initial thought was “This is a joke … I was quite confused what it was all about.”
The tiger often makes appearances at fairs and other similar events, so being out and about was nothing new for Sheena, who will weigh close to 600 pounds when full-grown.
The tiger was never out of her cage, mostly lounging there during practice and entertaining a steady stream of gawking reporters and cameramen.
After practice, players lingered by the cage. Feeney said of the tiger, with a laugh, “I’ve seen one in zoos but I’ve never seen one that close. It was kind of scary at first. But I’m fine now.”
The tradition of a live tiger at LSU dates to 1936. Mike III, who served from 1958-76, was purchased from the Woodland Park Zoo.
First-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox spent the past two years at Tennessee, an SEC foe of LSU.
“I thought it was a pretty neat deal that Sark put them up to that one (bringing in the tiger),” Wilcox said. “I think the kids thought that was pretty cool.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org