12th man (football)

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The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during American football and association football games. 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. 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 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 original Twelfth Man

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]

The first recorded instance of the term "12th Man" referring to an individual was to denote E. King Gill and his actions in Dallas on January 2, 1922.[citation needed] At the Dixie Classic, the forerunner of the Cotton Bowl Classic, Texas A&M (then known as The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) played defending national champion Centre College. In this hard fought game, which produced national publicity, an underdog Aggie team was slowly but surely defeating a team which boasted three All-Americans. 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 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. As there were 11 men on the field, E. King Gill was the 12th Man, hence the term.

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[edit]

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, though many[who?] stopped using the term "12th man" at the request of Texas A&M.[citation needed] The Bears currently use the phrase "4th Phase."[12] The Seattle Seahawks continue to use the phrase, having settled with Texas A&M out of court after a trademark lawsuit filed by Texas A&M.[13][14]

12th Man clubs[edit]

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,[15] Dana Hills Dolphins,[16] Seneca Golden Eagles,[17] Washington Panthers,[18] Richwood Knights,[19] Diamond Bar Brahmas,[20] Fairfield Falcons,[21] and Brentwood Bruins.[22]

The Campbellsville University Tigers of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics also have a 12th Man Club.[23]

Buffalo Bills[edit]

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.[24] Their fans were inducted because of their loyal support during the team's early '90s Super Bowl runs.[25] In 2008, the Bills renamed their "12th Man Walk of Fame" as "Tim Russert Plaza," in honor of the Buffalo native and lifelong fan.[26] The team continues to refer to the their fans as the "12th Man,"[27][28][29] with their independent, international fan clubs known as "Bills Backers Chapters."[30]

Indianapolis Colts[edit]

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]

Seattle Seahawks[edit]

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.[36] In recent years, 12th Man flags[37][38][39][40][41] 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.[42][43] When the Seahawks took the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, they were led by LB Heath Farwell carrying the team's 12th Man flag[44][45] per team tradition.[46]

Texas A&M[edit]

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.[47] Current Texas A&M students call themselves the 12th Man, and have done so continuously since the 1920s. The entire student body stands throughout the game to symbolize their "readiness, desire, and enthusiasm" to take the field if needed. 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. During one kickoff during a tense game, 12th man squad member Tony Pollacia took to the field in preparation for the kickoff, and began twirling his towel over his head to excite the crowd. This was the first time the towel was ever swung around by a player on the field in this way.[citation needed] The act was so well received that during the next kickoff, more members of the 12th man kickoff squad took their towels onto the field as well and imitated Pollacia's action. During the season, students began waving their own white towels, and now the towels are ubiquitous. In the 1988 Cotton Bowl Classic game vs Notre Dame, a member of Sherrill's 12th Man Kickoff Team Warren Barhorst tackled Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown.[48] He took Brown's towel and waved it over his head in celebration. An infuriated Brown tackled Barhorst, earning himself a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.[49]

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."[50] Whenever the Aggies score points during the game, students kiss their dates.[50]

In the spirit of the 12th Man, the football coach Jackie Sherrill created the "12th Man Kickoff Team" in the 1980s composed of non-athletic scholarship students who tried out for the team instead of players who were recruited, as is the normal practice in college football. 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. Each player was given a #12 jersey to wear (at the time NCAA regulations did not prohibit more than one person on the field with the same number) and nicknamed "the suicide squad," many kick return teams feared the walk-on students who were determined to leave their mark in Aggie lore; these students often had little regard for their safety and were determined to make a tackle at any cost.[51][52] The 12th Man kickoff team was extremely successful and eventually held opponents to the lowest yards-per-return average in NCAA Division I Football during kickoffs.[53] 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 Kickoff Team", entirely made up of walk-ons, was brought back, though used only rarely when the team is up by quite a few points.[54][55]

Texas A&M trademark[edit]

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 wrote the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills about halting their "12th Man" themes.[56] Byrne stated that, "they responded quickly with our requests to stop using our Twelfth Man trademark."[57] Texas A&M[who?] sent requests to stop using the phrase to the Seattle Seahawks in both 2004 and 2005. The Seahawks did not respond to the requests.[58]

In January 2006, Texas A&M filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Seattle Seahawks to protect the trademark and in May 2006, the dispute was settled out of court. Neither side admitted any fault or liability. As part of the agreement, the Seahawks acknowledge Texas A&M's ownership rights of the trademarked phrase. In the agreement, Texas A&M licensed the Seahawks to continue using the phrase "12th Man" in exchange for $100,000, along with public acknowledgement by the NFL franchise as to Texas A&M's ownership of the phrase, and an additional annual fee.[59] The compensation amounted to $5000 per year.[60][61] The agreement limits the Seahawks usage to seven western states and forbids them from selling any "12th Man" merchandise.[60]

Use in association football[edit]

Derry City's twelfth man in Paris, France.

The term "12th man" is commonly used in association football to refer to the fans and occasionally the manager. Large European and Asian teams such as Bayern Munich, Foolad, Aberdeen FC, Rangers F.C, PSG, S.S. Lazio, Feyenoord, Ferencvárosi TC, FC Red Star and Fenerbahçe S.K. have officially retired the number 12 to the fans. Stockport County fans are registered as official members of their squad with the number 12.[citation needed] 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,[citation needed] while Plymouth Argyle have theirs registered to the Green Army (the nickname for their fans).[citation needed] 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, Hammarby IF in Sweden and Perth Glory in Australia.

PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands have also a retired number 12.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The Hibs 12th Man is "Powered by Hibs Fans" followers of the Scottish Premier League club Hibernian F.C.. Set up in June 2010, by the support, the Hibs 12th Man has the official backing of the Club. 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.[citation needed] The most vociferous fans of Boca Juniors in Argentina are known as "La Doce" or "The Twelfth." 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.[citation needed] 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.[62] 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.[63]


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.

In American football, fans are most incited by physical play, especially good plays made by the defense.[64] 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."[65]

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."[65] 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.[66]

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.[67] 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.[65]

In Association Football (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.

The current world record for crowd noise at an athletic event was set on December 2, 2013, at an American football game in Seattle, Washington. Noise during that event reached a high of 137.6 decibels.[68]

A researcher from Harvard University discovered in a study that some association football 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.[69]

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.[70]

See also[edit]


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