Seattle Seahawks: History of the 12th man


Twelve is much more than a number.

It’s a passion. It’s a community. It’s a way of life.

If you hear a roar in the Pacific Northwest, it’s most likely not from active volcano Mt. Rainer. Instead, it’s from yelling fans, known as 12s, who love the Seattle Seahawks more than just about anything.

Seattle isn’t where the 12th man began. In fact, it begins in College Station, Texas – 2,280 miles southeast from the Emerald City. Let’s take a journey through history to see how Seattle became the home of the 12th man.

It’s Jan. 2, 1922, and the Texas A&M football team is playing top-ranked Centre College. The reserves become thin and Coach Dana X. Bible remembers basketball player E. King Gill, a former football player, is in the press box helping reporters identify players. He asks him to the field, telling him to suit up and be ready to play if needed. Gill isn’t needed, but the Aggies win 22-14.

"“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,” Gill said."

Gill becomes known as the 12th man because he supported the Aggies when they needed assistance. His devotion inspires the student body, creating a fan base willing to help in every way they can. It’s the beginning of a new era in fandom.

Fast forward a few decades.

The Seahawks are founded in 1976 and the city rejoices. The Kingdome sells out game-after-game, impacting the team’s success in the 1980s.

It’s Dec. 5, 1984, and the Seahawks are playing their regular-season finale against the Denver Broncos. During the game, Seahawks president Mike McCormack retires the No. 12 jersey to honor “the best fans in the NFL.” It’s the first time a professional sports franchise retires a jersey in honor of its fans.

To see a photo gallery of the ceremony, click here.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle 12s are honored once again 19 years later. The tradition of the 12 Flag begins in 2003 with 12 original season ticket holders raising the flag before kickoff. Former Seahawks, local celebrities and sports personalities keep the tradition alive throughout the years.

The spirit of the 12 becomes iconic. On Nov. 27, 2005, the fans’ vocal support is credited for Seattle’s thrilling overtime win against the New York Giants, who are called for 11 false starts and three missed field goals. Head coach Mike Holmgren dedicates the game ball to the 12th man the following day.

Watch the video below to hear the New York radio announcers call the end of the game.

Okay, so we’re getting the point. There’s one more vital thing in 12th man history: Beast Quake.

It’s Jan. 8, 2011. The Seahawks are hosting the New Orleans Saints for a playoff game. It’s the near the end of the 4th quarter and the Seahawks are winning 34-30. On 2nd and 10, running back Marshawn Lynch makes a historic 67-yard touchdown run, breaking six tackles. Fans go berserk, literally shaking the ground. The excitement records on seismographs.

And because the 12th man, who recorded a 137.6 decibel reading in 2013, is so vital to the Seahawks, the team is taking a new approach: ownership.

Paul Allen’s Northwest Football LLC now owns 11 trademarks that involved “12,” including “Spirit of 12,” “Bring on the 12,” “We are 12,” the number 12 on flags and banners and “12s,” which was granted last week. They have filed for six more trademarks relating to the symbolic number.

Notice something? The phrase “12th Man” isn’t among Seattle’s trademarks. That’s because Texas A&M – remember E. King Gill? – owns it and has since 1990. The two teams made a deal in 2006, allowing the Seahawks to use “12th Man” in their stadium for $5,000 a year, but not on any merchandise. The arrangement was extended in 2011 to 2016.

In short, Seahawks fandom is not just a phase that will disappear in a couple years. It’s a commitment to the team. The 12th man is a part of the team. So much that the organization is recognizing money can be made from it. Perhaps current head coach Pete Carroll says it best.

"“The 12s have an unparalleled impact on game days,” said Carroll."

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