Texas A&M unhappy Seattle fans called '12th man'

Updated: January 28, 2006, 1:59 PM ET
Associated Press

FORT WORTH -- 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.

Kyle Field
Texas A&M contends the 12th man lives at Kyle Field, not in Seattle.

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.

Athletics director Bill Byrne said this week he's received e-mails from A&M supporters complaining about the Seahawks' "brazen use of the 12th Man theme at their home playoff games."

Byrne said A&M has contacted the Seahawks about the issue. He said he wrote the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills in the past about halting their 12th man themes once the university made them aware of the trademark registrations.

Byrne said Seattle, though, "has been slow-rolling us."

Lance Lopes, the Seahawks' vice president of corporate partnerships/legal affairs, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he would not comment on whether the team would meet A&M's request.

"I will say this," Lopes told the newspaper. "Our fans have been the folks that have run with the 12th man. It has not been the organization itself. We raise a flag with a 12 on it, it doesn't say 12th man or anything like that. We retired the jersey No. 12 many, many years ago and we've always sort of kept it under that context.

"But, in terms of this whole 12th man derivative, if you will, that's occurred in the mass media and the public here locally. It has not been generated by the organization, per se."

But Steve Moore, A&M's chief marketing officer, said the school has seen Seahawks-themed "12th Man" merchandise and has no way to know whether the franchise itself is producing it.

The team's pro shop is sold out of No. 12 replica game jerseys and No. 12 flags and a fan Web site -- SeaHawkers.org -- offers downloadable computer desktop wallpaper that reads: "At Home We are the 12th Man" and "On the Road We are the 12th Man."

"In the normal course of action, once someone becomes aware of it and they understand that you have a registered trademark, normally they cease," said Steve Moore, A&M's chief marketing officer. "In this case, they have chosen not to, but we are still hopeful that they will, quite frankly."

The university's last resort is to take the Seahawks to court, but Moore said A&M is not prepared to do that yet.

"What we hope is that the normal course of action will work, and that they'll choose to recognize our ownership of the trademark," he said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press