COLUMBIA — He has probably shot water at you as he makes his rounds of Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoons.
And it is more than likely that you have slapped paws with him on several occasions at the Mizzou Arena.
Truman the Tiger has been an integral part of the Missouri athletic department, in some capacity, for over a century.
When looking at the animated, happy-go-lucky expression on the face of MU’s foremost feline, you wouldn’t think that the tiger name came from such a gruesome time in American history.
The Tiger mascot is actually a product of a battle cry that all Missourians rallied around in the mid-1860’s. Residents were under siege from outside residents when they united in opposition. With their backs against the wall, the group banded together to fight off the attack with the ferocity of a tiger, hence the Missouri Tiger name that the state’s landmark university would adopt when they began intercollegiate athletics in 1890.
When the tiger mascot was made official, the university wanted a decidedly aggressive symbol, which led to the face of a Bengal tiger being the face of MU for more than eighty years.
From that time and until now, those sporting the tiger suit aren’t just plucked off the quad. Candidates are interviewed and asked questions about school history. They also are tested to see how they move around inside the tiger costume.
Steve Wendling of Columbia was one of many put into the Bengal tiger suit from the late 1800s till the mid-1980s. During Wendling’s tenure in the suit, there was the regular Truman and his understudy. Wendling served as a cheerleader for the Tigers in 1976 before being appointed to the position in 1977.
“One of my favorite memories is actually being in the tiger costume and dancing with my girlfriend, who was a cheerleader, in the middle of Faurot Field,” Wendling, 52, said.
He was denied the position of tiger mascot in 1976 but pursued the position in 1977, again, due to the urging of his girlfriend and future wife.
During his tenure there was a male tiger, a female tiger and an alternate for each. Today there are up to five tigers on call to serve at athletic events, social gatherings and on-campus events.
The demand for the mascot is one thing that has not changed since its inception. For many years, though, the university simply referred to its mascot as “the tiger.” In the mid 1980s, MU held a schoolwide contest to give its longtime mascot a name.
On Sept. 13, 1986, the tiger that had roamed the sidelines and courts of Missouri athletics officially became Truman the Tiger—named after the 33rd president of the United States who was a native of Lamar. With that name came a new face for the suit, the happy smiley caricature he sports presently, as opposed to the more aggressive face of the previous mascot.
“I don’t want to say anything but it seemed like they did better on the field when they had the non-happy face,” Wendling joked.