Responses to my desperate plea for sports column ideas have surpassed the 100-plus mark, and by the far the most appealing suggestions were to rerun essays from the archives.

The biggest plus is that it involves very little work on my end. Cutting and pasting is not really heavy lifting.

Still, I resisted the notion until earlier this week I started hearing rave reviews about this new Netflix series, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." Apparently, it centers around the raising of exotic big cats and is wild and crazy and nutty and spellbounding all at the same time.

My first thought was that the series has to be about Caroline Atchison, the woman who helped bring Mike V, the former LSU live mascot, into the world.

It's not, it turned out.

But it got me to thinking about Atchison, the subject of one of the strangest interviews I've ever had.

Shortly after Mike V died on May 18, 2007, somebody at LSU tipped me off that there was an interesting backstory about him.

I followed up and it led to Atchison, who was — how to put this delicately? — a tad, shall we say eccentric, and leave it at that. I called her twice and I think she called me three times, and it got stranger and stranger to the point much of it got left out of the column because I just didn't believe parts of it and couldn't confirm it.

Anyway, this column ran on June 6, 2007.


So, you thought you knew Mike V, the LSU mascot who died two weeks ago?

Better yet, if only all those opposing players who went to LSU's Tiger Stadium through the years — and tiptoed warily past Mike V's cage — had known what they were really dealing with.

The cage is always positioned strategically outside the visiting team's dressing room, the better to remind them that they are perhaps a neglected latch away from becoming a pregame appetizer.

If only they'd known.

The truth is, Mike V would likely have lived life as a 500-pound house pet had he not had the good fortune to end up at his state-of-the-art digs at LSU, masquerading as a roaring maneater.

He was, after all, born in a bed — Carolyn Atchison's bed in Moulton, Ala. — while a perfectly good animal shelter sat right outside the back door.

His birth name was Stevie, and Atchison to this day still refers to him by the more informal Mikey.

Mike V's birth mother, Sheba, was a thumb sucker — Carolyn Atchison's thumb, at that — although Sheba did beat the rap on a bed-wetting charge.

The wheels to get "Stevie" and LSU together were put in motion, not from a King Kong-style expedition, but by way of an ostrich farmer in Louisiana.

Mike V's brother, born in that same bed in Atchison's bedroom, is still alive and, now going by the name of Tom II, serves as the mascot for the University of Memphis, the only other college team with a live tiger.

Another brother stayed behind at the home place before succumbing to cancer of the tiger tail some years ago.

The soon-to-be famous tigers had a black leopard and a striped leopard as early playmates before finding their true callings on campus.

Mike V's father, Rambo, was bedside for the blessed births, but not actually in the bed.

"He always had a look in his eye," Atchison said of Mike's dad. "I always had to keep an eye on Rambo. So he had to sleep at the foot of the bed."

And pity the poor, ahem, cat burglar that stumbled into that bedroom, huh?

But to know Mike V, you really have to know Atchison, a feisty, salty-tongued 62-year-old who has literally lived with big cats since falling in love with them as an offshoot from working as an undercover agent trying to nail counterfeiters of the Panama Jack and Calvin Klein clothing lines.

That's kind of where Mike V's story begins.

That mid-1970s investigation — Atchison was in the clothing business at the time — brought on other assignments for various enforcement agencies, which eventually led her behind the scenes of the black-market trade in exotic animals.

Next thing you know she was in the Carolinas, staring at a sign that read: "Roadside Park: Tigers and Exotic Animals For Sale and to See."

She did both.

She saw some deplorable conditions for the animals.

And she paid cash for Sheba and Rambo — Mike V's future parents — along with a third, all of whom were mere 2-week-old cubs at the time. Later she went back and purchased Sheba's mom so there'd be an adult tiger around. "I can tell you Mikey came from an excellent gene pool," she said. But it was the first time holding those sickly cubs at the roadside park that really changed her life. She's bluntly honest about it — her marriage was doomed from that moment on.

But, she said, while first cuddling the near-helpless tigers she felt maternal instincts that her (human) son never evoked.

"I wasn't meant to be a mother," she said. "Never felt it. Not when I was pregnant. Not when I had my son and held him. My mother said it would come. It never did.

"I never changed my baby's diapers. With the tigers I didn't think anything of (cleaning up after) them. But the first time I held those cubs, I felt I had to mother them and take care of them. I knew what I was supposed to be."

Her mission became to rescue animals from cramped and squalid conditions or to provide refuge for those who'd been discarded after their value as curiosity pieces had been exhausted.

Soon enough the 60 acres surrounding her northwest Alabama home were converted into a veritable Noah's Ark, quickly overrun with all manner of tigers, lions, hyenas, leopards, antelopes, cheetahs, panthers — you name it — even a few stray bears.

At times the place lived up to its name — Animal House Zoological Society.

Two of the bears, which were trained to drive four-wheelers during their former lives with a circus, once commandeered a tractor left idling by a refuge employee and drove it into Atchison's swimming pool. They lost some roaming rights.

But Sheba and Rambo, by that time all grown up, had the run of the place, even sleeping inside the house with Atchison.

Sheba often slept in the bed with Atchison because, as Atchison explained, "she couldn't sleep unless she was sucking my thumb."

Which is exactly where they all were when LSU's future mascot was born.

"It, the bed, was all wet, I thought Sheba had (urinated) on me, which she would never do," Atchison said. "She had given birth. I looked down and there were the babies."

Atchison is a firm believer that young tigers need affection.

Stevie, as Mike V was still called, got more than most because he battled an inner ear problem as a cub.

"Because he got so much attention, Mikey was always well behaved," Atchison said. "And that was his personality."

But he was healthy and weaned, 5 months old, when in 1990 LSU was in the market for a new Bengal Tiger to replace Mike IV, who was still alive but retiring due to poor health.

Atchison isn't much of a sports fan of any kind, let alone a die-hard LSU supporter.

But she did know Bob Clemons, who had an ostrich ranch north of New Orleans and was a big Tigers fan.

Clemons directed LSU's search toward northwest Alabama.

Atchison had no qualms about donating her young tiger to LSU — for the same reasons many mothers turn toward adoption.

"At LSU they could provide for his every need so much better than I ever could," she said, noting that the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine alone made it a no-brainer. "How could I deny him that chance, to go to a place where he'd be treated like royalty and pampered and adored by all those people."

The newly christened Mike V, an Alabama native, was introduced to Tigers fans at the LSU-Alabama basketball game in late February of 1990, with Chris Jackson and freshman Shaquille O'Neal leading LSU to a 75-69 victory.

Atchison saw Mike V only once after he left Alabama.

"I can't ever leave here," said Atchison, who now also has the Lawrence County Animal Shelter on her property. "It's the curse of my life. I can't leave these cats to go anywhere."

But she did manage a visit to a friend in Baton Rouge a few years ago and used the occasion to drop by.

"I knew I'd made the right choice," she said of seeing Mike V at play in his palatial campus home.

Atchison now has 16 tigers in residence — 16 1/2 if you count the liger, a half-tiger, half-lion contraption that won't eat unless Atchison cuddles him first.

She wishes she had one suitable to become LSU's Mike VI.

Yes, she's heard the concerns of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"They paint themselves purple and orange and think they're (expletive) saving the world," Atchison said.

"They're all about publicity. They don't know anything about the animals. I know the animals. I live with them. Being a mascot is the best a tiger can live. Better than a zoo."

Mike V's personality might have been the best suited of all, Atchison said.

Mike III, in particular, and Mike IV to a lesser degree, were mean hombres, according to the vets who cared for them. "Cats are like people," Atchison said, admitting that few of them sleep in beds. "They're all different. There's good tigers and bad tigers." "I've had lots of (expletive)- hole tigers."

But she loves them all.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

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