The 12th man is a term commonly used to describe the fans within a stadium during American football or Association football (soccer) games. Since most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, the term denotes the attempt of a team's fans to help their team. In American football, the term is trademarked by and originated with Texas A&M University in 1922.
The presence of fans can have a profound impact on how the teams perform. 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.
The first recorded instance of the term "12th Man" being used was to describe 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 played defending national champion Centre College in the first post-season game in the southwest. 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. Unfortunately, the first half produced so many injuries for A&M that Coach D. X. Bible feared he wouldn’t have enough men to finish the game, so, he called into the Aggie section of the stands for E. King Gill, a reserve who had left football after the regular season to play basketball. Gill, who was spotting players for reporters at the time and was not in football uniform, willingly volunteered and donned the uniform of injured player Heine Weir. When the game ended with an A&M victory, 22-14, E. King Gill was the only man left standing on the sidelines for the Aggies. 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." Although he did not actually play in the game, his readiness to play was noted. Since there were 11 men on the field, E. King Gill was the 12th Man, hence the term.
The "12th man" term has been used by various American football teams including the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, and Chicago Bears in reference to their supporters, though the Bears no longer use the term "12th man" at the request of Texas A&M. The Buffalo Bills, and Seattle Seahawks continue to use the phrase. The Chicago Bears now use the term "The Fourth Phase" referring to the fans contribution toward victory along with the contributions of the other 3 phases namely offense, defense and special teams.
As a tribute to their fans, the Seahawks retired the number 12 during a game on 15 December 1984. Since then #12 Jerseys have been sold by the team and worn by Seahawk fans, often with the name "Fan" on the back. The Seahawks also have a ceremony before each home game where a flag bearing the #12 is raised by a prominent individual.
The Buffalo Bills have honored their 12th man by inducting them into the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame inside the Ralph Wilson Stadium. They were inducted in 1992 because of their loyal support during the team's early 90's Super Bowl runs. The name "12th Man" still is on The Wall today.
Current Texas A&M students call themselves the 12th Man, meaning they are there to support the 11 players on the field and are eligible and ready to enter the game if the events of 1922 were to be repeated. To further symbolize their "readiness, desire, and enthusiasm", the entire student body stands throughout the game. 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. 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 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. 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.
Because the students are always waiting for the opportunity to support their team, they are also willing to take the credit for the team's good deeds. A popular Aggie tradition is that "when the team scores, everybody scores." Whenever the Aggies score points during the game, students kiss their dates.
In the spirit of the original 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 number 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. 12th Man kickoff team performed very well and held opponents to one of the lowest yards per return averages in the league. 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. 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.
The term "12th Man" was coined and marketed to represent the Texas Aggie fans after the 1922 Dixie Classic. While intellectual property laws recognize such common law uses in trademark disputes, the official registration of the mark was not filed by Texas A&M (U.S. Reg. No. 1948306) until September 1990, and later significantly bolstered by the passage of the Federal Dilution Trademark Act of 1995. This law allowed Texas A&M to use potential damage to the trademark through dilution as a justification in its lawsuit against the Seattle Seahawks. 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 failed to respond to the request.
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 public acknowledgement by the NFL franchise as to Texas A&M's ownership of the phrase.
The term "twelfth man" is commonly used in association football to refer to the fans and occasionally to the manager. 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 Zenit Saint Petersburg in Russia and Grimsby Town from England as well as Odense Boldklub, also known as OB, in Denmark. PSV Eindhoven from The Netherlands have also a retired number 12. 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 FC 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 twelfth 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. and Clube Atlético Mineiro also retired the number 12 for the fans. 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 B, 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.
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. 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."
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." 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.
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. 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.
The New York Giants allegedly asked the NFL to intervene in 2006 when they played the Seattle Seahawks. In their 2005 matchup at Qwest Field, the Giants incurred 11 false start penalties due to the crowd noise. For the 2006 rematch between the two teams, the NFL sent observers to verify that the Seahawks were not artificially enhancing the noise level. Qwest Field in Seattle has been architecturally designed to be the loudest stadium in the NFL. This has caused 2.83 false starts per game, which is the highest in the NFL since 2005. The Decibel level at Qwest Field is a whopping 112 dB, only 18 dB below the roar of a Boeing 747.
In Association Football (soccer), the crowd is often loud throughout the match - for example before kickoff (Liverpool fans singing You'll Never Walk Alone as the players run out); 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 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.
Delia Smith, Norwich City's joint major shareholder, received some notoriety when, seemingly under the influence of alcohol, she took to the pitch during the 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. In the end Norwich City lost the game in the dying seconds, but Smith's passion worked to increase the affection the fans held for her.
On the 8 November 2009 Manchester United's Wayne Rooney was heard screaming "12 men" at a television camera. Rooney was referring to the referee helped Chelsea win after denying numerous penalty shouts from United. Fans will often complain that the opposition team has had '12 men' during the game, meaning the referee has sided with the 11 normal players.