BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It didn't take Mike VII long to capture the hearts of LSU fans everywhere, but one fan said he won her over when he was still just a cub called Harvey.
"He was adorable," said Jill Davidson.
Davidson has never set foot in Baton Rouge. An attorney in New York, she did her undergraduate work at Columbia University and considered herself a college basketball fan. It was a work colleague, Johnny Hutchinson, who decided she should become a football fan and introduced her to the LSU tradition.
"Johnny took it upon himself that it was absolutely necessary that I expand my sports repertoire to becoming a college football fan," laughed Davidson.
Hutchinson, who grew up in an LSU family, said he'd like to think his descriptions of then-coach Les Miles and the victories of his team won her over, but he admitted it was really Mike the Tiger that made Davidson a fan from afar.
"I was devastated with Mike V and losing Mike VI" said Davidson.
At the same time fans in Baton Rouge were mourning the loss of the Mike VI, formerly known as Roscoe, Davidson traveled to Miami to visit a childhood friend. It was on that trip, they went a facility called the Zoological Wildlife Foundation, ZWF.
According to their website, ZWF is a USDA and State licensed facility "offering intimate guided wildlife tours that include hands on encounters with a vast variety of our wildlife." The facility's description says their goal is public education. Among the tour options at ZWF is an encounter with feline cubs, which their website calls "animal ambassadors."
In late October 2016, the ambassador Davidson met was a playful, energetic 8-week-old Bengal tiger cub named Harvey.
"[We] just died. There's just no other word for it. After it was over, you're talking about two women with more ridiculous degrees between them than you want to count, and neither one of us could string together a coherent sentence for several hours," said Davidson.
In the weeks and months after their feline encounter, Davidson said she tried to keep up with Harvey and his sister Hailey through the ZWF Instagram account. However, after December, the cubs stopped showing up in posts.
Then came the news that LSU had found Mike VII. Davidson immediately contacted Hutchinson, her LSU guide, for details. When she heard the tiger's name was Harvey and his age and that he came from a facility in South Florida, she said bells went off in her head.
"That's when we started down the path of, wait a minute, could this be the same tiger?" said Davidson.
Mike VII was donated to LSU from a sanctuary in Okeechobee, Fla., called "Wild at Heart Wildlife Center."
Wild at Heart's co-director Jeremy Hargett said he did not know how Harvey came to be at their facility, saying Harvey was already there when he recently took over. However, Hargett said their facility had worked with ZWF in the past. He also confirmed that the Harvey donated to LSU has a sister named Hailey, and said it was "very possible" the young cub Davidson met last year and the tiger now prowling at LSU are one in the same. Even the markings from the young cub seem to match Mike VII.
Calls to ZWF were not returned.
Davidson and Hutchinson admitted they can't conclusively trace the cub's possible journey from ZWF to Wild at Heart to LSU, but they're convinced. If nothing else, Hutchinson said a picture of the cub swaddled in a purple blanket, biting a stuffed elephant is proof enough Harvey was born for LSU.
Davidson said she's just happy to learn what happened the cub she met nearly a year ago.
"There's something really comforting to know that Harvey, now Mike, is going to live this tremendous life, first of all adored by millions, and second of all that he's going to get the best possible care and be treated and revered for the rest of his life," said Davidson. "That's really nice to know."