The fire started small and spread slowly up the tall wooden frame. But the thousands of people waited patiently as it burned, and they cheered when a burst shot up into the dark night sky.
This is Tiger Burn, an annual night where University of South Carolina students, alumni and fans gather to literally destroy the mascot of rival Clemson University. The Monday night event largely resembled a pep rally with cheerleaders, free T-shirts and a winning women's soccer team — oh, and then there's the eulogy.
Pastor Robert Walker of the United Methodist Church agreed to deliver the parting farewells to the 34-foot-tall orange figure. His son is in Student Government and his wife is on the music faculty, so he felt qualified to give a fitting roast even though he isn't an USC alumnus.
"I used to wonder why tigers eat their young," Walker said in the speech. "Then I met Dabo."
This tiger, though, was just an infant itself, built over about two weeks by the USC chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Engineers. The plan for 2017 added four feet of height, a change that required shifting from a three-part to a seven-part design. With an estimated 100 work hours devoted to the construction of the figure weighing almost one ton, Patrick Bull — who created the design for the tiger — said he was excited to reach the actual event.
"By the time it gets to burn phase, I'm ready for it to go," the fourth-year mechanical engineering student said.
The tiger itself was reluctant to go, burning for several minutes. The smiling paper face never caught fire and was destroyed only by the water jet of firefighters.
"It's cool but I wish they would have filled it up more," second-year public health student Maddy Crowe said. "I like the significance though."
Tiger Burn has a historical basis in 1902 when Carolina won the rivalry game and a riot broke out. Now, the rivalry week includes more tame events like a blood drive, which USC won after a 2016 loss. Students and alumni alike come out to Tiger Burn to support their team.
Tracy Allen, USC class of '09, brought her five-year-old son to the event. He got a picture with Cocky and sat patiently through the performance and speeches.
His favorite part, though?
"Getting the tiger burned."