Texas A&M Angry Seattle Seahawks Fans Called ’12th Man’

Texas A&M is angry that the Seattle Seahawks refer to their fans as “the 12th man” in advertising promotions.

The Seattle Seahawks are facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, but they have an off-the-field battle brewing with Texas A&M. School officials are upset with the Seahawks’ use of the “12th Man” theme to recognize their fan support. A&M has legal claims to the “12th Man” moniker, a school tradition that dates to the 1920s.

The Seahawks have celebrated their fans as a “12th Man” since the 1980s, when they used to turn the now-demolished Kingdome into one of the NFL’s loudest venues. The team retired the No. 12 in 1984. Now, a No. 12 flag waves atop the city’s signature Space Needle and the team has raised a “12th Man” banner at their new stadium, Qwest Field.

A&M’s “12th Man” tradition started in 1922, when a student, E. King Gill, was called from the stands to suit up for the injury-depleted Aggies as they faced top-ranked Centre College. Gill never got in the game, but the Aggies won 22-14. The tradition has evolved into a campus-wide commitment to support the football team. Students stand for entire games at Kyle Field and at times, they join arms and sway in unison, causing the stadium to literally shake.

A&M has twice registered trademarks for “The 12th Man” label — in 1990 and 1996 — that include entertainment services, “namely organizing and conducting intercollegiate sporting events,” and products, such as caps, T-shirts, novelty buttons and jewelry.

This is almost as silly as when Pat Riley trademarked the term “threepeat” some years back.

The reference to football fans as “the 12th man” is so ubiquitous and longstanding, it never occured to me to wonder where it came from. Certainly, I had heard fans of both college and professional football teams glorified as “the 12th man” going back well before 1990. After all, it is a rather obvious coinage since there are eleven players in the game for a football team at any one time.

It’s not clear to my how the Aggies could trademark a term decades after it made it into wide usage, regardless of its provenance.

Interestingly, A&M’s 12th Man Foundation is the first result on Google for 12th Man (no quotes) and Aggie Traditions is second. The Seattle Seahawks Most Valuable Network is third.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. G A PHILLIPS says:

    irrelevant on all counts, if a group of fans should have that monicker, it should be be the greatist fans in the world, the Greenbay Packer fans. P.P. any body know where I can find a good liberal lawyer so I can sue for the rights?

  2. bryan says:

    It’s not clear to my how the Aggies could trademark a term decades after it made it into wide usage, regardless of its provenance.

    Apparently they have. Given the assinine licensing restrictions imposed by the NFL on the Super Bowl and all assorted logos, etc. I’d say sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    c.f. the NFL’s official super bowl policies.

  3. Aggies. Gotta love those little buggers.

  4. Balin says:

    The trademark is possible because A&M can trace the tradition (and moniker) back to 1922 – long before any other organization claims to have coined the phrase. As an Aggie AND Seahawks fan, I’m conflicted. It bothers me that my beloved school can be so crass when it comes to licensing and money, but as bryan pointed out: the NFL is every bit as hard-nosed. Seattle’s VP points out that the TEAM only raises a flag with a 12 on it – it is We the Fans that call ourselves the 12th Man, and A&M can’t sue me for doing double duty. =)

  5. John Book says:

    This isn’t crass. Hardly from it. A&M has sent a cease and desist letter in 2004 and 2005. The only reason for the “extreme” action now is that the organization is in the Super Bowl. A trademark is a trademark, and the Seahawks organization is using the trademark. Not to mention the lack of response from the Seahawks.

    The university is in the clear here…I say the Seahawks’ bird is cooked, both for the Big Game an in this legal matter.

  6. Greg says:

    The court action orders the Hawks to stop “using, selling, offering for sale, disseminating, distributing, delivering, circulating, issuing, marketing, displaying, promoting or advertising any products goods or services” that use “12th Man” or “12th Mania” for the next 14 days.

    “Calling your fans a 12th man is one thing; using it commercially is quite another.” A&M’s chief marketing officer, Steve Moore, explained Monday.

    Texas A&M’s argument is a baseless media grab. Seattle Seahawks recognize the fans in retiring the #12 Jersey in 1984, 6 years before A&M’s first trademark. They have since never sold or licensed any merchandise which contains the slogan “The 12th Man.” Because you can buy it, doesn’t mean the Seahawks produced it and manufactured it for commercial profit.

    – At Texas A&M, the term has been in used to describe Aggies fans since 1922.
    – In Seattle, a tradition began in 1984 when the Seahawks retired the jersey number 12 to honor their fans.
    – Texas A&M patented the term “12th Man” in 1990 (six years after the Seahawks retired the # 12 jersey in Seattle) later registering a trademark for the variation, “12th Mania” in 1996.
    – Texas A&M’s trademarks include entertainment services, “namely organizing and conducting intercollegiate sporting events,” and products, such as caps, T-shirts, novelty buttons and jewelry. You cannot trademark a concept, only commercial gains from one if you are the proven originator of the phenomena.

  7. Daniel Gordon says:

    There is only one “12th Man” – Go Aggies – Gig em!

  8. Matt says:

    How can anyone believe A&M does not have ownership of the term “12th Man”? Who cares if Seattle “retired” the number 12 in 1984. That’s 62 years after A&M started the tradition. It is intellectual property, and we have the rights to it. Study, if you will, about Coke, Xerox, Band-Aids, and Q-Tips almost losing the rights to their name because it became common lingo. However, they have the legal right to the name and so does A&M. It is true however, that you cannot stop the actual fans from calling themselves the 12th Man. But wouldn’t it be better to come up with something original instead of copying our tradition?

  9. PicUse says:

    Mr. Joyner needs to do at least at minimum of research before commenting. Instead, his ignorance devalues his written words.