Auburn's official mascot, Aubie the Tiger, may be wearing a black armband this year, because Phil Neel -- the newspaper cartoonist who created Aubie 55 years ago -- died Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. at the age of 84.
Neel created Aubie for the cover of Auburn's 1957 media guide, and the cartoon tiger soon became a staple on the school's football program covers.
Like most mascots of that era, Aubie was more mischievous than ferocious, more apt to be flashing a sly grin than a sabre-toothed snarl. The character's popularity gave rise to a live version, who started patrolling Auburn's sidelines in 1979 and continues to do so today.
"Phil was a lifelong friend of our family and helped me get my first real job at the Birmingham Post-Herald," recalled Uni Watch reader Jeff Hunter. "Over the years he drew personal stuff for me as gifts, including an Auburn coat of arms for my den and caricatures of my wife and me as a wedding present. He was a great husband, father, and friend, and I will miss him greatly."
Neel stopped doing Auburn program covers on a regular basis after the 1976 season. He did a handful of covers after that, the last of which appeared in 1991.
A year-by-year archive of Neel's his cover art, all of which features Aubie, is available here.