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. In American football, the first documented use of the term "twelfth man" was in an alumni publication of The University of Iowa in 1912 in reference to its fans. The first documented use of the term "12th Man", and the first use of the term to reference an individual, E. King Gill of Texas A&M University occurred in 1922. Students at Texas A&M began using the term as their moniker in the 1920s and the school formally trademarked the term in 1990. 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
Press clippings from the game where the term "Twelfth Man" was first used by Texas A&M.

The first recorded use of the term "twelfth man" was in the November 1912 edition of The Iowa Alumnus, an alumni publication of the University of Iowa (then known as State University of Iowa) in which 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." [1]

Nearly a decade later, 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 2 January 1922. 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.[2] 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."[3] 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, although there is no record of this label being used by any schools or fans, other than Texas A&M. 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.[4]

Perhaps the most famous interloper in college football history made his appearance in the 1935 Princeton-Dartmouth game before 56,000 fans who braved the snow and cold to attend. [5] Mike Mesco, a spectator at the Princeton-Dartmouth game 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." [6] 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. [7] 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.” [8] Larsen, a 26-year old architect, said he didn’t initially come forward because he feared the incident might hurt him in his job.[9] Friends convinced him to come forward as Mesko gained more glory. Larsen’s claim to fame was borne out by photographs of the prize gridiron comedy of 1935. The pictures showed that the spectator whose heroic break stopped the game wore a windbreaker like Larsen had on that day. Mesko wore an overcoat. Larsen stated, “I got excited and ran out on the field because I saw Dartmouth was taking it on the chin and I always feel sorry for the underdog.” [10]

The 18 December 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 College. 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.[11]

Texas A&M tradition[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 the 25 November 1921 edition of The Battalion, the Texas A&M campus newspaper.[12] Current Texas A&M students call themselves the 12th Man. 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.[3] 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. 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.[13] 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.[14]

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."[15] Whenever the Aggies score points during the game, students kiss their dates.[15]

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.[16][17] 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.[18] 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.[3] 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.[19][20]

Use in American football[edit]

The term has been used by various American football teams including the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and Chicago Bears in marketing practices in reference to their supporters, though many stopped using the term "12th man" at the request of Texas A&M (the Bears currently use the phrase "4th Phase").[21] 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.[22][23]

The Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12 jersey on 15 December 1984. The tradition of raising a 12th man stadium flag before kickoff, by either season ticket holders or celebrities, began on 12 October 2003.[24]

In 1992, the Buffalo Bills honored their 12th man by inducting them into the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. They were inducted because of their loyal support during the team's early '90s Super Bowl runs.

The Indianapolis Colts honored their 12th man by inducting them into the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor in 2007.[25]

Texas A&M trademark issues and Seattle Seahawks lawsuit[edit]

The term "12th Man" is licensed to Texas A&M by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. An official registration of the mark was filed by Texas A&M (U.S. Reg. No. 1948306) in December 1989 and the application was approved in September, 1990. According to statements made by Texas A&M officials, they sent requests to stop using the phrase to the Seattle Seahawks (2004, 2005), Buffalo Bills (undated), and the Chicago Bears (undated). Both the Bills and the Bears responded to the requests stating they would no longer use the phrase, however the Seahawks did not respond to the request. The Indianapolis Colts, who added the term "12th Man" to a plate inside of their Ring of Honor in 2007, have been sent similar cease and desist letters and have not yet responded.

In January 2006, Texas A&M filed suit against the Seattle Seahawks to protect the trademark and in May 2006, the dispute was settled out of court. In the agreement, Texas A&M licensed the Seahawks to continue using the phrase "12th Man" in exchange for financial compensation along with public acknowledgement by the NFL franchise as to Texas A&M's ownership of the phrase.[26]

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 teams such as Bayern Munich, 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 Odense Boldklub, also known as OB, in Denmark and Hammarby IF in Sweden.

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 18 September 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.[27] 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.[28]


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.[29] 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."[30]

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."[30] 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[30]

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.[33]

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.[34]

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.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. A. McGowan. "The Twelfth Player". The Iowa Alumnus (University of Iowa. Alumni Association) 10 (November 1912): 30. 
  2. ^ AP Newswire. "Texas Ag of Twelfth Man Fame Serving Uncle Sam". Dallas Morning News (16 July 1942) (Dallas Morning News). 
  3. ^ a b c Cook, Beano (8 October 2006). "Ten Days That Shook the Sport". ESPN. Retrieved 26 July 2007. 
  4. ^ Victor Davis. "Sports Sidelights". Dallas Morning News (12 October 1930) (Dallas Morning News). 
  5. ^ "Oddities in 1935 Sports". Reading Eagle. 23 December 1935. 
  6. ^ World Telegram. 30 November 1935. 
  7. ^ Alexander, Jack (1 December 1935). "Yale's Error! Fetes Wrong Butt-In Hero". Sunday News. 
  8. ^ Whittingham, Richard (2001). Rites of Autumn, The Story of College Football. 
  9. ^ "Dartmouth's 12th Man was Another Fellow". Bayonne Times. 2 December 1935. 
  10. ^ Alexander, Jack (1 December 1935). "Yale's Error! Fetes Wrong Butt-In Hero". Sunday News. 
  11. ^ "Twelfth Men". Dallas Morning News (195) (Dallas Morning News). 18 Dec 1938. 
  12. ^ Unknown. "The Twelfth Man". The Battalion 10 (25 November 1921) (Students Association of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas). p. 17. 
  13. ^ Burson, Rusty (1 June 2006). "Aggie Flashback by Rusty Burson". 12th Man Foundation. Archived from the original on 6 February 2006. Retrieved 13 February 2007. 
  14. ^ Eskenazi, Gerald (2 January 1988). "Cotton Bowl; Aggies Top Irish By 35–10". New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2008. 
  15. ^ a b Nissimov, Ron (16 September 2001). "A Salute to 125 Years: A&M celebrates Corps of Cadets". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 16 August 2007 
  16. ^ 12th Man honors Sherrill – Sports – The Battalion – Texas A&M
  17. ^ "NBC Evening News". Vanderbilt Television News Archive. 2 September 1983. Archived from the original on 27 May 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2009. 
  18. ^ "Twelfth Man". Aggie Traditions. Archived from the original on 29 December 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2006. 
  19. ^ "McNeil sets Aggie offense record in win over SMU". ABC 13 News. 17 September 2005. Retrieved 31 December 2006. 
  20. ^ Heater, Jay (27 December 2006). "LaMantia A&M's main 12th Man". Oakland Tribune. Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2007 
  21. ^ "Fan Club". Chicago Bears. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  22. ^ José Miguel Romero (9 May 2006). "Hawks' 12th Man lives". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 21 June 2007. 
  23. ^ Terramce Harris (8 May 2006). "A&M, Seahawks settle 12th man flap". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 11 August 2006. 
  24. ^ Staff. "HISTORY OF THE 12TH MAN". Seahawks.com. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  25. ^ Craig Kelley (24 July 2012). "JAMES TO JOIN COLTS RING OF HONOR". Colts.com. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  26. ^ "'12th Man' for everyone: Seattle, A&M resolve dispute". ESPN. 8 May 2006. Retrieved 26 July 2007. 
  27. ^ "HVAA Player Profile". Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  28. ^ http://www.rangers.co.uk/news/football-news/article/2757323
  29. ^ Boling, Dave (21 September 2006). "Artificial noise? Much ado about Hawks' 12th Man". The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington). Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2007 
  30. ^ a b c Baldinger, Brian (12 January 2004). "Gaps in action can kill home-field edge". The Sporting News. Retrieved 11 September 2007 
  31. ^ Acee, Kevin (26 December 2006). "They're right on Q". The San Diego Tribune. Retrieved 11 September 2007 
  32. ^ Fryer, Jenna (21 January 2006). "Panthers thrive in hostile settings". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 11 September 2007 [dead link]
  33. ^ "Seattle’s 12th Man reclaims Guinness crowd noise record". 
  34. ^ Study reveals referees' home bias. BBC News. 6 May 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2007 
  35. ^ "Delia Smith BBC interview". Retrieved 11 May 2006. 

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