WORD UP! The History of “The 12th Man” (or Why Seattle Can Thank My Alma Mater for This One)

From time to time, it’s fun to dig into sports terms and rules. This week: The 12th Man.

Even the Space Needle gets into the game.

Even the Space Needle gets into the game.

If you’re not familiar with The 12th Man, you’ll hear this term a lot this weekend in reference to Seattle Seahawks fans and the NFC Championship against San Francisco. It’s fairly simple: Because there are 11 players on the field at a time in football, loud, excited fans are referred to as the “12th Man” – that extra helping hand to push the ball into the end zone, or hold the defensive line.

The first recorded use of “12th Man” was in a 1912 edition of the University of Iowa alumni newsletter. But it was Texas A&M who embraced it in the 20s, when the team was struggling against DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS CENTRE COLLEGE (where yours truly happened to attend). The Aggies had so many injuries, the coach sent for a cadet, E. King Gill, who had traveled just to watch the game. The coach had Gill, who had tried out for football but did not made the team, suit up, just in case he was needed. He wasn’t, and A&M won 22-14. Gill reportedly said, “I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me.” His team spirit was celebrated as “The 12th Man,” and it became A&M’s mantra to this day.

Seattle began using the term in the early 2000s because their CenturyLink Field is so loud, the other team can’t hear themselves. As a student unfortunate enough to suffer Seattle grunge as the landmark music movement during college, I loved a recent demonstration of a Fox reporter comparing a decibel gauge at both a nearby grunge show, and a Seahawks game—the game won by a mile. Reportedly, the stadium noise level created a small earthquake during last week’s defeat of New Orleans.

Each Seattle game, a “12” flag is raised, a giant “12” banner is passed around the stands, and thousands of fans are loud and proud (maybe a little too loud—Texas A&M trademarked the 12th Man phrase and sued the Seahawks a decade ago, but they reached a licensing agreement).

Something must be working—the Seahawks have won six straight home playoff games. Word. Up.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s