Like most love stories, this one begins in the lobby of a nondescript hotel.

The Holidome in Monroe, I guess it was, maybe like 1998.

The Louisiana Sports Writers' Association convention was in residence, and I'd taken a break from the serious business at hand, probably a bourré game.

But she caught my eye immediately, standing unobtrusively off in the corner of the lobby, mysterious and haunting, cute little offspring in tow.

She looked to be promoting something, but there was no advertising — none — on this cutout of what, in reality, was a cardboard kangaroo, pretty close to life-sized.

I asked the lady at the front desk what it was doing there.

She said she didn't know.

"Can I borrow her for a minute?," I asked.

She said she didn't have that authority and I'd probably need to talk to the hotel manager.

"Thanks, I'll bring her right back," I said, and of course the hotel never again saw the girl that became known as "Matilda."

Some jurisdictions might refer to it as a kidnapping, but, truthfully, "adopted without malice" might be the better description, and it was better for all concerned. Matilda had no real prospects working that hotel lobby, whereas she was quickly welcomed with open arms in the LSWA hospitality room.

By the next day, in fact, she was vacationing along the Redneck Riviera.

At that stage of the relationship I hadn't noticed that she could be folded in half for transport, so she rode upright in the passenger seat and we got some curious stares from passengers in passing cars en route to Orange Beach, Alabama. But by nightfall she was a big hit at the world famous Flora-Bama Lounge, where the house band eventually insisted she take a place next to them on stage.

It was that night that Matilda found her true calling — everybody, it seemed, gravitated towards her and wanted their picture taken with her.

After figuring out she was foldable, I even constructed an oversized envelope-looking thing, probably 3 feet by 4 feet, that the airlines would treat as checked luggage.

"Sir, do you mind if I ask what's in there?" they'd ask at the check-in counter.

"Just my kangaroo."

"OK, cool. Next …"

I don't know if it would fly now, but that whirlwind romance was before 9/11.

The following spring at Disney World was probably the highlight of Matilda's power over people.

I knew we had to get a picture of the kangaroo with the Magic Kingdom's castle in the background.

I was a little surprised they let me in the Magic Kingdom with a life-sized kangaroo cutout, but it is amazing what you can get away with if you just act like you know what you're doing.

One problem. My daughter Jennifer was going through that awkward stage when every fun thing her dad did somehow embarrassed her — still waiting on her to outgrow it, actually — and she wanted no part of it.

So I had to find somebody else to take my picture with a kangaroo. That was really no problem, and afterwards the nice gentleman handed me his own camera and asked if I'd take his family's photo with her.

Sure.

Then another family stepped up.

And another.

Next thing you knew, an orderly line had formed in Main Street USA, kids and parents all waiting as patiently for their time with Matilda as they had for Space Mountain.

Of course, by then Matilda was used to the attention.

She'd been a regular at the LSU football tailgate scene, even visited the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa, along with going for the best ribs in the SEC at Dreamland BBQ, where the pit master came out from the smoke to pose with her.

But her big road trip that season was probably to Notre Dame for an LSU football game.

Another sports writer and I, with Matilda alongside, pulled into the parking lot near the stadium, coincidentally parking next to another media contingent from Louisiana.

The spot offered a perfect picture-taking background view of "Touchdown Jesus" and we were in the process of making it happen when, like something out of a movie, a campus security car eased eerily into the frame.

The two officers seemed to be sizing us up. Then the blue lights came flashing on.

"They're on to us," I whispered to Jim.

"They must have talked to the Monroe Holidome," Jim answered.

But just then the Notre Dame squad car's speaker system cackled to life. There was a short burst of "wee-youp!! wee-youp!!"

Then …

"Everybody step away from the kangaroo and nobody gets hurt," the police ordered.

It turned out the officers just wanted their pictures taken, too.

It was a madcap year, but somewhere along the way fellow scribes decided I was having entirely too much fun. It was decided Matilda would be passed on to another sports writer each year at the convention.

That lasted 10-12 years and, as I was the one who stole her fair and square, I got to do the honors of passing along the kangaroo each year.

But then one year New Orleans-area sports writer Lori Lyons had custody. Her young daughter grew quite attached to the kangaroo.

There wasn't a natural heir by then, and I got to make the announcement at the next banquet that Matilda had found a permanent home.

Lora Leigh cried tears of joy and I knew it was the right decision.

Still, I had to break the news to Matilda.

"It's for the best," I told her. "Besides, we'll always have Monroe."


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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