12th man (football)

The 12th man or 12th player is a term for fans of teams in eleven-a-side sports games, particularly American football or association football. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team's fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game. Infrequently, the term has referred to individuals having a notable connection to their football team. In Canadian football, 12 players are usually on the field at one time and the term 13th man is often used to refer to fans. Similarly, in Australian rules football, 18 players are on the field and the fans are often referred to as the 19th man. The term has a different meaning in cricket, referring instead to the first substitute player who fields when a member of the fielding side is injured (the term 6th man has a similar connotation in basketball).

The presence of fans can have a profound impact on how the teams perform, an element in the home advantage. Namely, the home team fans would like to see their team win the game. Thus these fans will often create loud sounds or chant in hopes of distracting, demoralizing and confusing the opposing team while they have possession of the ball; or to persuade a referee to make a favorable decision. Noises are made by shouting, whistling, stomping and various other techniques. Sometimes, the sideline is also referred to as the "12th man" or "12th defender". Since a player is considered down when he steps out of bounds, the sideline effectively acts as an extra defender. This usage is less common than the one referring to the fans.


Texas A&M's E. King Gill during the 1921–1922 season

The first recorded use of the term "twelfth man" was a magazine published by the University of Minnesota in September, 1900, that referred to "the mysterious influence of the twelfth man on the team, the rooter."[1] Later, in the November 1912 edition of The Iowa Alumnus, an alumni publication of the University of Iowa (then known as State University of Iowa), E.A. McGowan described the 1903 game between Iowa and the University of Illinois. In his article, titled "The Twelfth Player" McGowan wrote: "The eleven men had done their best; but the twelfth man on the team (the loyal spirited Iowa rooter) had won the game for old S.U.I."[2]

An early reference to the numerical "12th Man" term occurred at the 1922 Dixie Classic, featuring Centre College and The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (later known as Texas A&M). During the game, A&M coach Dana X. Bible realized that one more injury would leave him without another backfield player to send into the game. Coach Bible remembered that E. King Gill, an individual who had tried out for the squad but who "lacked the experience and ability to play for the varsity" had made the trip as a member of the school's Corps of Cadets and was sitting with his friends in the stands.[3] Bible sent for Gill and asked for him to suit up and be ready if needed. Gill later 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."[4] Although he did not actually play in the game, his readiness to play was noted.

Other individuals have occasionally been labeled by local media as the "Twelfth Man" of their team. In 1930, W. H. Adamson, Principal of Oak Cliff (Dallas) High School was called the "Twelfth Man" of the school's football team by a local reporter due to the rousing pre-game speeches he would give to the players.[5]

In the 1935 Princeton-Dartmouth game before 56,000 fans who braved the snow and cold,[6] spectator Mike Mesco was initially reported to have left his seat from the stands to join the Dartmouth defensive line and was referred to in a local newspaper as the "Twelfth Dartmouth Man."[7] As it turned out it was not Mesko but George Larsen of Cranford, N.J., who dashed from the stands to aid Dartmouth in her game with Princeton.[8] Asa Bushnell III, Princeton class of 1947, wrote of the incident in 1960 for the Princeton Athletic News: "Strange as it may seem, it was a young architect from Cranford, N.J., a refugee from the University of Cinncinnati, no less - who immortalized the activities in Palmer Stadium on November 23, 1935. It was he who, midway through the fourth period that tingling afternoon, left the other 55,999 spectators in their seats to assist the Dartmouth Indians in a determined goal-line stand. It was he who lined up with the Hanoverians on the two yard stripe and prevented Jack White from scoring - and White boasted interference from the awesome likes of Johnny Weller and Homer Spofford. It was the daring "twelfth man" who, though escorted unceremoniously off the field and out of the stadium without further ado, gained a nationwide football reputation in a single play."[9]

The December 18, 1938, Dallas Morning News said "Whether they play now on a team, used to play back in the day, follow the game closely or just quarterback from the grandstand occasionally, every football enthusiast well knows how much that twelfth man in the stands means to any football team. But that backing means unusually much in the traditional Thanksgiving game between the University of Texas and Texas A&M. With an uncertain monotony that has long since made game forecasters exceedingly skittish, these two win where their twelfth men help most." Thus, in this single instance, the term "Twelfth Man" was used to refer to the fans of both schools playing.[10]

Use in American football

The 12th Man flag of the Seattle Seahawks

The term has been used by various American football teams including the University of Minnesota, the University of Iowa, Baylor University, Dartmouth College, Simmons College, Texas A&M and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins,[11] and Chicago Bears in marketing practices in reference to their supporters. The Bears currently use the phrase "4th Phase,"[12] and the Seahawks currently use the phrase "The 12s." [13]

12th Man clubs

Many high schools in the United States incorporate 12th Man language into their booster, supporter, or rooter clubs. Examples of such "12th Man Clubs" include the Altaloma Braves,[14] Dana Hills Dolphins,[15] Washington Panthers,[16] Richwood Knights,[17] Diamond Bar Brahmas,[18] Fairfield Falcons,[19] , and Brentwood Bruins.[20]

The Campbellsville University Tigers of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics also have a 12th Man Club.[21]

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills 12th Man coin, from the December 12, 1992, Wall of Fame induction.

On December 12, 1992, (12/12/1992) the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League honored their 12th Man as the seventh inductee into the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, located inside of Ralph Wilson Stadium.[22] Their fans were inducted because of their loyal support during the team's early '90s Super Bowl runs.[23] In 2008, the Bills renamed their "12th Man Walk of Fame" as "Tim Russert Plaza," in honor of the Buffalo native and lifelong fan.[24] The team continues to refer to their fans as the "12th Man,"[25][26][27] with their independent, international fan clubs known as "Bills Backers Chapters."[28] The Bills have a licensing agreement with Texas A&M over the use of the "12th Man" term.[29][30]

Indianapolis Colts

Fans of the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL are known as the 12th Man.[31] The Colts created a Ring of Honor on September 23, 1996, after playing 13 seasons in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2007, the Colts inducted their 12th Man as the sixth entrant into the team's Ring of Honor, then located on the interior facade of the RCA Dome.[32] The Ring of Honor currently encircles Lucas Oil Stadium, the team's home venue. The organization also designates a "12th Man Fan of the Game".[33][34][35] On November 12, 2015, Texas A&M announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Colts based on the team's usage of the term.[36] On February 17, 2016, the lawsuit was settled with the Colts agreeing to remove the phrase from their Ring of Honor and to immediately cease all other uses of the trademarked phrase.[37]

Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12 jersey on December 15, 1984, in honor of their fans. In 2003, the Seahawks installed a giant flagpole in the south end zone of what is now CenturyLink Field, and began a tradition of raising a giant flag with the number 12 on it in honor of the fans. Usually, a local celebrity or a season ticket holder raises the flag during pregame ceremonies.[38] In recent years, 12th Man flags[39][40][41][42][43] have been seen all over Seattle whenever the Seahawks make the playoffs, including atop the Space Needle. In 2014, Boeing painted a Boeing 747-8 freighter with a special Seahawks livery, with the number 12 on the tail, and they later flew it over eastern Washington in a flight path spelling the number 12.[44][45] When the Seahawks took the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, they were led by LB Heath Farwell carrying the team's 12th Man flag[46][47] per team tradition.[48]

The Seahawks' 12th Man has twice set the Guinness World Record loudest crowd noise at a sporting event, first on September 15, 2013, registering 136.6 dB during a game against the San Francisco 49ers[49] [50] and again on December 2, 2013, during a Monday Night Football game against the New Orleans Saints, with a roar of 137.6 dB.[51][52]

Texas A&M

The Texas A&M student section of Kyle Field stands the entire game to show support for the football team

The first known instance of Texas A&M referring to its fanbase as the "12th Man" is contained on page 17 of 25 November 1921 edition of The Battalion, the Texas A&M campus newspaper.[53] Current Texas A&M students call themselves the 12th Man, and have done so continuously since the 1920s. Ever since the day E. King Gill left the stands in 1922, the entire student body has stood throughout the game to symbolize their "readiness, desire, and enthusiasm" to take the field if needed.[3] A statue of E. King Gill stands to the north of Kyle Field to remind Aggies of their constant obligation to preserve the spirit of the 12th Man.[4] Beginning in 1985, fans also began waving 12th Man Towels during the game to show their support. The tradition of towels started when coach Jackie Sherrill's 12th man squad began carrying them to motivate the student body in the stands.

Because the students are always waiting for the opportunity to support their team, they are also willing to share the credit for the team's good deeds. A popular Aggie tradition is that "when the team scores, everybody scores."[54] Whenever the Aggies score points during the game, students kiss their dates.[54]

Football coach Jackie Sherrill created the "12th Man Kick-Off Team" in the 1980s, composed of non-athletic scholarship students who tried out for the team. Coach Sherrill has written a book entitled "No Experience Required" which details this team and the tradition. These students were placed on the roster for the sole purpose of kickoffs. The squad was nicknamed "the suicide squad." These students often had little regard for their safety and were determined to make a tackle at any cost.[55][56] The 12th Man Kick-Off Team was extremely successful and eventually held opponents to one of the lowest yards-per-return average in the league during kickoffs.[57] Later, head coach R. C. Slocum changed the team to allow only one representative of the 12th Man on the kick off team who wears uniform number 12.[4] The player is chosen based on the level of determination and hard work shown in practices. Under Dennis Franchione, the 12th Man Kick-Off Team composed of walk-ons was brought back, though used only rarely when the team was up by quite a few points.[58][59]

On June 30, 2014, Texas A&M bought the domain name 12thman.com, which then became its official athletics website.[60][61]

Washington Redskins

In 1986, the Washington Redskins released a video entitled “Thanks to the 12th Man”.[62][63] The video has received attention for being among the worst sports videos of all-time.[64]

Use in association football

Derry City's twelfth man in Paris, France.

The term "12th man" is commonly used in football to refer to the fans and occasionally the manager. Large European and Asian teams such as Bayern Munich, Foolad, Malmö FF, Hammarby IF, Werder Bremen, Aberdeen, Rangers, Paris Saint-Germain, Lazio, Feyenoord, Ferencvárosi TC, FC Red Star, Fenerbahçe S.K. and Sporting CP have officially retired the number 12 to the fans. Stockport County fans are registered as official members of their squad with the number 12. Portsmouth F.C. has also retired its number 12 shirt, and lists the club's supporters, "Pompey Fans", as player number 12 on the squad list printed in home match programmes, while Plymouth Argyle have theirs registered to the Green Army (the nickname for their fans). Number 12 is also reserved for the fans at many other clubs, including CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg in Russia, Bristol Rovers and Grimsby Town in England, as well as Aarhus Gymnastikforening (AGF), Odense Boldklub, also known as OB, in Denmark, Malmö FF and Hammarby IF in Sweden and Perth Glory in Australia. On Hammarby IF's, Feyenoord and Werder Bremen's home games, the stadium speaker announces number 12 as "the fans" during team lineup announcements.

Dynamo Dresden in Germany also keeps number 12 for their fans, as well as the official team anthem being "We are the 12th man". Aberdeen F.C. supporters commonly display a large banner in the shape of a football shirt with the text "Red Army 12" in place of a player's name and number. The fans of the Northern Ireland national football team and Derry City are referred to as the 12th man as well. In the League of Ireland Shamrock Rovers F.C. retired the number 12 jersey in recognition of the fans who took over the club in 2005. Cork City F.C., Clube Atlético Mineiro and Clube de Regatas do Flamengo also retired the number 12 for the fans. The most vociferous fans of Boca Juniors in Argentina are known as the "Jugador Numero 12" (Spanish for "Player Number 12") or simply "La Doce" ("The 12"). On September 18, 2004, U.S. Lecce, an Italian team currently playing in Serie A, retired the number 12 to the fans, which was handed to them by the former captain Cristian Ledesma. They symbolically represent a 12th Man in the field. In the beginning of 2009/2010 season, Happy Valley AA introduced the club's mascot, a panda, on squad list as the fan club captain wearing the number 12 jersey.[65] As of the end of the 2011/2012 season Rangers F.C announced that the number 12 jersey would be retired in honour of the fans support throughout a period of financial difficulty.[66]


The effects of the "12th man" vary widely, but can be put in two categories. The first is simply psychological, the effect of showing the home team that they are appreciated, and showing the away team that they are somewhat unwelcome. The second directly relates to the deafening effects of a loud crowd.

The current world record for crowd noise at an athletic event was set on September 29, 2014, when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the New England Patriots. Noise during that event reached a high of 142.2 decibels during a timeout.[67][68]

In American football, fans are most incited by physical play, especially good plays made by the defense.[69] Additionally, the home team can derive energy from the loud noise of their fans; former American football players have described the feeling of their adrenaline pumping after hearing the fans yell, which is "like you have a reserve energy tank."[70]

The noise of the crowd can have a significant impact on the players on the field. In American football, an extremely loud crowd can prevent the offensive linemen from hearing the snap count. This can have the effect of making the player slower to react when the ball is snapped, and his eventual response may be weaker than normal because each play is begun "with some indecision and doubt."[70] The noise can also prevent players from hearing audibles and can make it difficult for the team's offense to coordinate plays in the huddle. The effect of the noise can often be measured in mistakes, such as false start penalties.[71]

Coaches can take steps to minimize the effect of the crowd noise on their teams. Some American football teams bring large speakers to their practice fields and broadcast loud noises such as jet engines to prepare their teams for the anticipated noise level.[72] Crowd noise tends to diminish after a long lull in play, such as a pause for instant replay. Former NFL player Brian Baldinger speculates that some coaches draw out reviews as part of a coaching strategy to quiet the crowd for their next play.[70]

In soccer, the crowd is very passionate and often sing throughout the whole match. Some occasions where the crowd noise is extra loud can be before kickoff; during the buildup to and scoring of a goal; when encouraging the team to come back from defeat; to discourage an opposition penalty taker; or to harass a referee giving a free kick to the opposition team.

A researcher from Harvard University discovered in a study that some soccer referees appeared to be impacted by crowd noise. His studies revealed that a home team acquired an additional 0.1 goal advantage for every 10,000 fans in the stadium.[73]

Delia Smith, Norwich City's joint major shareholder, received some attention when she took to the pitch during a half time interval, with a microphone in hand and Sky TV cameras in tow, to tell fans the side "need their twelfth man." "Where are you?" she cried. Norwich City lost the game in the final seconds, but Smith's passion worked to increase the affection the fans held for her.[74]

Texas A&M trademark

Texas A&M University applied on December 26, 1989, for trademark U.S. Ser. No. 74013898 related to usage of the term. The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the "trademark registration" September 4, 1990, to Texas A&M. Four additional Trademark claims related to the "12th Man" term were also filed and granted at later dates by Texas A&M University (See U.S. Ser. Nos. 74560726, 76671314, 85977835 and 85851199), the first three of which have achieved Incontestable Status as a result of its section 15 affidavit with the Patent and Trademark Office. According to former Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne, he contacted the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills about halting their "12th Man" themes.[75] Byrne stated that, "they responded quickly with our requests to stop using our Twelfth Man trademark."[76] Texas A&M sent requests to stop using the phrase to the Seattle Seahawks in both 2004 and 2005. The Seahawks did not respond to the requests.[77]

In January 2006, Texas A&M filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Seattle Seahawks and in May 2006, the dispute was settled out of court. Neither side admitted any fault or liability. In the agreement, the Seahawks licensed the phrase in exchange for $100,000, along with public acknowledgement as to Texas A&M's ownership rights of the phrase, and an additional annual fee.[78] The compensation amounted to $5,000 per year.[79][80] The agreement, which expired in 2016, limited the Seahawks' usage to seven western states and forbid them from selling any "12th Man" merchandise.[79] In August 2015, the Seahawks shifted towards calling their fans the "12s", and replaced their "Home of the 12th Man" stadium sign with a new "Home of the 12s" sign.[81]

On November 12, 2015, Texas A&M filed suit against the Indianapolis Colts after repeated cease and desist requests were ignored by the NFL club.[82] On February 17, 2016, the lawsuit was settled with the Colts agreeing to remove the phrase from their Ring of Honor and to immediately cease all other uses of the trademarked phrase.[37]

In August 2016, the Seahawks agreed to a new five year trademark licensing agreement with Texas A&M. As part of the agreement, the Seahawks agreed to pay Texas A&M $140,000 for limited rights to use the trademarked term. This agreement, like the previous agreement, prohibits the Seahawks from using the "12th Man" term on any merchandise. The new agreement however, also prohibits Seattle from using the term on social media, nor are they allowed to use the term on any signage within their stadium, including their Ring of Honor.[83]

See also


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External links

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