“Texas college disputes Broncos use of ’12th Man,” reads the headline at Denver’s 9News.com, as if said “college” might be Trinity or Paul Quinn, rather than the history-rich major college football program that is Texas A&M.
The incident in question happened this past Sunday, when the Denver Broncos featured a skydiver with a “12th Man” flag before Sunday’s NFL playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lots of Aggies noticed, including A&M vice president of marketing and communications Jason Cook.
A&M’s 12th Man tradition, of course, dates back to 1922, when a student named King Gill came out of the stands and put on pads for Dana X Bible’s shorthanded squad. Now, as A&M’s website says, “The 12th Man is always in the stands waiting to be called upon if they are needed.”
“The 12th man is extremely loyal,” Cook told Reeve Hamilton of the Texas Tribune. “The 12th man is standing ready to serve, and it’s part of our DNA at Texas A&M.”
It’s also, argues John Bena of Mile High Report, “what every team in every football stadium at every level calls their fans.”
But the university trademarked the phrase in 1990 and infamously enforced those rights against the Seattle Seahawks (which had used the term for decades) in 2006, resulting in a licensing agreement.
“They have a limited license to use the 12th man mark in their venue,” Cook told KBTX in Bryan-College Station. “They can’t put it on t-shirts, they can’t put it on things outside of their geographic region. It really is confined to their home stadium.”
According to the Tribune‘s Hamilton, “Cook said that not only did the agreement with the Seahawks clearly establish A&M’s trademark, but it made it even more necessary to check the unlicensed usage of the term by other teams.”
A&M’s licensing honchos are expected to reach out to the Broncos, either in the form of a friendly reminder or, if necessary, an actual cease-and-desist request. Barring another Seahawks-like agreement, perhaps the Broncos might consider trying out another name to fete its fan base—it’d probably be okay with A&M if they chose something like, “Big 12.”