History of the TAMU "12th Man"
The story behind Texas A&M's use of the phrase "12th Man" and their "12th Man tradition" is one of the more controversial sagas of the behavior of TAMU administrators. Generally, school traditions are not sordid tales of deceit, dishonesty and litigation. But, in this case, all three elements are present.
The short version of events is that on January 2, 1922, the aggy football team was played a post-season exhibition game in Dallas. During the first half, a couple of the aggy players got hurt. In the stands watching was a player who had been with the team during the season, but didn't hang around for the exhibition game, but instead joined the basketball team. At halftime, he went behind the bleachers and changed from his street clothes into the uniform of one of the injured players and stood around on the sideline with the other players in case he was needed to play. he wasn't needed, the team won the game and after the game, everyone went home.
Not very exciting stuff. At the time of the game and for decades after, no one thought anything about the player coming down, putting on an unused uniform and hanging around on the sidelines.
But, for Texas A&M, this was the greatest thing to happen in the entire 140 year history of the school.
The TAMU Version
As the A&M faithful tell the story:
The game was a classic struggle of a young, upstart band of rag-tag farmers, squaring off against one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The odds were so stacked against the A&M team that the bookies might as well have been offering one-million-to-one odds. The skies were gloomy, yet a strange sense of ecclesiastical serenity hung over the aggy sideline. It was a presence all felt, yet none could explain.
Starting with the opening kickoff, everyone knew something was different about this game. The rag-tag band of farmers got punched square in the mouth by the powerful opponent, but not giving an inch, they punched right back, twice as hard. Neither side gave any quarter, nor did either side ask. Crisis struck when an aggy player, the quarterback, was knocked out with a broken leg. More than once, his grit and determination had him trying to hobble back into the huddle on his bloody stump of a leg, only to be dragged back by the coaches who needed their every ounce of strength to hold him back.
All of a sudden, another aggy went down, and then a third. Soon, injured aggy were stacked like cordwood and a sense of despair fell over the coach. One of the greatest upsets in the history of humanity was about to slip through his hands, for he had no substitutes left to put into the game should but one more player suffer an injury.
The coach squinted, trying to make out who the young man was. It was then, an assistant coach tapped the coach on the shoulder and said, "It's King Gill."
E. King Gill was a sophomore at A&M who had been on the team but who had left earlier as his basketball prowess was so desperately needed by the basketball team. The coach beckoned for Gill to come down, suit up, and stand on the sideline as the lone substitute in case one of the 11 on the field were to be injured. Gill would be the team's 12th Man.
Inspired by the sight of Gill standing on the sideline - a solitary figure, bathed in holy illumination and ready to come to the aid of the team should any of his fellow former teammates fall on the field of battle - the team was motivated as no team had ever been before, and no team has been since. When the final gun sounded, A&M had won the greatest upset victory ever known. The team rushed to the sideline to raise Gill on their shoulders to carry him off the field as the hero of the day. Ever since that final gun sounded, as A&M would have one believe, the name "E. King Gill" has been spoken only in hushed, reverent tones by the aggy faithful, for they know they are not worthy of speaking the great one's name aloud.
According to aggy lore, since 1922, Gill has been worshiped reverently as the team's "12th Man" and the statue erected in his honor outside the football stadium is such a sacred place, one is not allowed to walk on the grass anywhere within a 50 foot radius of the statue.
The Actual History of TAMU's use of the Phrase "12th Man"
As with many aspects of aggy culture, the truth of the school's 12th Man turdition is nothing remotely close to what aggy tells you it is.
In reality, the phrase "12th Man" had been in use by various schools around the country since at least 1900. The phrase was used to refer to the team's fans and their ability to inspire the team during games. Well before the 1922 football game, Texas A&M had been using the phrase exactly in this manner, indistinguishable from how any other school was using the phrase. Most importantly, on January 2, 1922, the phrase "12th Man" was unquestionably a commnon phrase and in the public domain.
Read more in this reprint of his Wall Street Journal article, "The Twelfth Man": A Football Phrase with Disputed Roots, by Ben Zimmer
As for E. King Gill, he explains his actions of January 2, 1922 as follows:
I had played on the football team but was on the basketball team at that time, and those in charge felt I was more valuable to the basketball team. I was in Dallas, however, and even rode to the stadium in the same taxi with Coach Bible. I was in civilian clothes and was not to be in uniform. Coach Bible asked me to assist in spotting players for the late Jinx Tucker [sports editor of the Waco News-Tribune] in the press box. So I was up in the press box helping Jinx when, near the end of the first half, I was called down to the Texas A&M bench. There had been a number of injuries, but it was not until I had arrived on the field that I learned Coach Bible wanted me to put on a football uniform and be ready to play if he needed me. There were no dressing rooms at the stadium in those days. The team had dressed downtown at the hotel and traveled to the stadium in taxicabs. Anyway, I put on the uniform of one of the injured players. We got under the stands and he put on my clothes and I put on his uniform. I was ready to play but was never sent into the game.
As per Gill's own words, he was at the game, spotting players for a sportswriter. He was asked to come down and put on a uniform. He put on the uniform, stood on the sideline and never entered the game.
As for the "injured players stacked like cordwood and the team being bereft of substitutes," again, not even close.
The Dallas Morning News had reported on December 27th, 1921, that the A&M had arrived in Dallas on Dec. 26th with 25 players. This was confirmed a day later by a Houston Post story published on December 28, 1921. A practice injury on the afternoon of Dec 27 to A&M fullback Floyd Buckner left 24 A&M players available to play against Centre College. Dallas newspapers did not report any more A&M injuries prior to kickoff on Jan. 2, 1922.
Examination of the newspaper accounts of the game (including the story filed by the writer Gill had been spotting players for) shows the A&M team suffered three injuries during the game, all in the first half (there were no A&M injuries in the second half). Subtracting the three injured players from the game day roster of 24 available players left 21 available players for A&M. When Gill came to the sideline, he was surrounded by the 10 other available substitutes wo suited up prior to kickoff and who could have entered the game in case a player was injured. There is no question Gill was not the only available substitute for the A&M team.
The A&M team won a close game. Afterwards, everyone went home. No one thought a thing of the guy who came from the stands. Under the rules in force at that time, such an event was nothing unusual. Players who didn't suit up for whatever reason were allowed to suit up after the opening kickoff.
An examination of Texas A&M school yearbooks shows there wasn't a single mention of Gill in connection with any "12th Man tradition" until the early 1960s, some 40 years after the exhibition game. Not a single sportwriter who covered the 1922 exhibition game mentioned an A&M squad decimated by injuries or anything about the team being without any available substitutes. Outside of the date of the game, the final score of the game and the opponent they were playing, the A&M version of the origin of their "12th Man tradition" has been entirely fabricated.
Not only is it known that the A&M story has been entirely fabricated, we know the name of the person who wrote the fabricated story was E.E. McQuillen. We also know the date of fabricated story was written - 1939. And we know this because of the words of none other than E. King Gill himself.
In 1964, Gill was asked to come back to campus and give a speech about the origins of the school's 12th Man "tradition." In his speech, he explains that in 1939 the football team was having a good season and a local radio station asked the school to dramatize an aspect of the school's football team to be broadcast as a radio play. E.E. McQuillen was the head of the school's alumni association and he chose the story of the 1922 exhibition football game to write about. The fictional aspects of the school's tradition, Gill being the lone available substitute, Gill being hailed as the school's hero and his being called the school's "12th Man," were all McQuillen's creations. Gill's 1964 speech, with his handwritten notes, can be found here: E King Gill's 1964 speech with handwritten notes
An in depth analysis of the TAMU's version of their 12th Man "tradition" and how it fails to hold up to scrutiny can be found here: "Texas A&M and The 12th Man. The Story of the 21st Man".In an April 15, 1964 interview with a Dallas paper, Gill was asked about the 1922 exhibition game and how he came to be the school's "12th Man" and explained:
"That developed in later years when the story was build up. I think it developed out of College Station when somebody put some sort of story about it on the radio in 1939, in the John Kimbrough era. From that, it grew into other things. Really, before that time, I'd never heard much of it."
In mentioning he hadn't heard much of "it," the "it" was the school's 12th Man "tradition." Gill hadn't heard of any Texas A&M 12th Man tradition prior to 1939, because prior to 1939, the school had no 12th Man "tradition." What they had was the practice of using the phrase "12th Man" to refer to their fans in the stands. E. King Gill didn't originate Texas A&M's 12th Man "tradition," E.E. McQuillen did. Some time around 1964, the school began representing McQuillen's fabricated version of the 1922 exhibition game as the actual version of events the 1922 exhibition game.
The October 21, 1939 edition of The Battalion, the A&M student paper, carried a story on Page 1 mentioning the upcoming broadcast of the radio program Gill mentioned as the origin of the aggy fairy tale about Gill being the hero of the team (and the school) because of his actions on January 2, 1922. The story clearly states "Ben E. Beesley, a player who helped both as an eleventh and twelfth man, too, with the game, may be presented in person (during the broadcast of the radio play)."
Beesley was a reserve half-back for the A&M squad during the 1922 Dixie Classic game (According to the gameday program, his jersey number was #33). He entered the game as a substitute when Heine Weir was injured early in the game (It was Weir's uniform Gill changed into).
This is further clear evidence (along with Gill's account of the tradition) that prior to the 1939 broadcast of the fictionalized account of the Dixie Classic game, E. King Gill was not considered the school's "12th Man," and his actions during the 1922 game were not recognized as being significant by anyone, including anyone connected with Texas A&M.
Gill's 1964 comments about not knowing of any "12th man tradition" on the A&M campus prior to 1939 make perfect sense. The school simply had no "12th man tradition" prior to the 1939 radio play. Their use of the phrase was in the generic sense, indistinguishable from how thousands of other schools were using the phrase - to refer to the spectators in the stands. Further, as Gill was not considered the school's "12th Man" until at least 1939, the fans who were standing during the games prior to 1939, could not have been standing to recognize the actions of Gill as the team's "12th man." If anyone, they would have been standing to recognize Ben Beesley, the individual the school paper referred to the week before the radio play aired as being the "twelfth man of the game."
An aside related to the 1922 exhibition game is that Bo McMillan, the starting quarterback of the team A&M was playing, had gotten married in Ft. Worth the morning of the game. While A&M prevailed in the exhibition game, the morning of revelry on the part of the opposing quarterback and his teammates probably made an afternoon exhibition football game a secondary consideration for them.
Once Texas A&M began to falsely represent E.E. McQuillen's fabricated version of the events of the January 1922 exhibition game as factual, the school never stopped. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, many, many other schools around the country continued to use the public domain phrase "12th Man" to refer to their fan bases, just as they had since at least 1900. At the same time, Texas A&M slowly expanded the manner in which they falsely represented the fabricated 1939 radio play version of the "origins" of their 12th Man "tradition"as being factual.
This was done with full knowledge on the part of school administration that the phrase "12th Man" had been in the public domain since at least 1900, and with full knowledge by school administrators that the version of the school's 12th Man "tradition" that claimed its origin was 1922 was a fraudulent product of the event that actually originated their 12th Man tradition, that being the fabricated 1939 radio play.
What makes the tale of the Texas A&M 12th Man "tradition" so controversial is what happened next. In 1989, Texas A&M officials filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to trademark the phrase "12th Man." While the phrase had been in the public domain for almost a century before the application was filed, university officials were unquestionably still entitled to file an application in hopes of trademarking the phrase. The problem was created when, in the body of the filing, Texas A&M officials used the 1939 fabricated version of events as the basis for the trademark filing, not a representation of the origin of the use of the phrase school officials knew to be honest and correct. Texas A&M administrators not only knowingly used the fraudulent story fabricated by McQuillen in 1939 as the basis for the trademark application, they attested to the accuracy of the information under penalty of perjury.
To simply state Texas A&M falsely represented they started using the phrase "12th Man" in 1922 and have used it continuously since as part if their tradition honoring E. King Gill, is to understate the scale and scope of the misrepresentations Texas A&M has employed in connection with their "tradition." For as long most Texans can remember, Texas A&M represented they originated the phrase in 1922. For decades, the school (and/or supporters of the school) represented the phrase "12th Man" did not even exist prior to the January 1922 exhibition game, even though it is unquestionable editions of the Texas A&M school paper dated prior to January 1922 had stories where the team's fans were referred to as being the school's 12th Man. Various documents have been produced, including one famous letter known as the "Red Thompson letter" that purport to offer corroboration for the 1939 E.E. McQuillen fairy tale version of events as being factual. A February 2014 Wall Street Journal story exposing Texas A&M's deceptions elicited threats by A&M alumni directed at individuals who helped the Wall Street Journal writer with his research.
Litigation to Defend the Trademark
Since obtaining their ill-gotten trademark on the phrase "12th Man," the university has embarked on a relentless and aggressive campaign to use it to end the use of the phrase in the public domain.
Since as early as 1922, Texas A&M has used the mark 12TH MAN (hereinafter, the “12TH MAN Mark”) in connection with sporting events and numerous products and services. The 12TH MAN Mark was initially adopted in 1922 as a remembrance of a student at Texas A&M, E. King Gill, and his spirit of readiness to serve Texas A&M’s football team in time of need. The legend of E. King Gill grew, and the 12TH MAN Mark now identifies and distinguishes Texas A&M in connection with all of its athletic entertainment services and events, education-related services, and a wide variety of merchandise products for which Texas A&M and its licensees use the 12TH MAN Mark.
While one might wonder how Texas A&M can get away with making such intentionally false and misleading representations in federal court filings. One thing that assisted the university in its most recent federal court litigation against the Indianapolis Colts s that the federal judge hearing the case was a Texas A&M alumnus. And not just any A&M alumnus. He attended Texas A&M in the early 19960s and was a sophomore on campus in April 1964, and very well was personally in attendance to hear E. King Gill Gill give his speech explaining the true origins of the school's 12th Man "tradition" were with E.E. McQuillen's fabricated 1939 radio play and that prior to the radio play, he hadn't heard of any 12th Man "tradition" in existence on the Texas A&M campus.
None of these facts have kept Texas A&M from waging a litigation war against any organization that dared use the public domain phrase "12th Man." Seemingly, in the eyes of Texas A&M, their fraudulently begotten trademark has given them license to extort settlements from and terrorize anyone who dared impede their scheme to profit from a trademark built upon a fabricated radio play script.
The list of victims of the Texas A&M scheme is long. Professional football teams who had been using the public domain phrase prior to the school's fraudulent trademark filing were bullied into settlements starting immediately after the school started their scheme. The school has bee so relentless in extorting settlements, they attacked Chuckie Sonntag, a double amputee living in Buffalo who had copied the Buffalo Bills' public domain use of the phrase in a non-profit venture.
The school's attacking of an indigent, disabled individual generating no revenue from the use of the phrase and using the phrase only to promote a community non-profit venture earned one senior TAMU school administrator the recognition of being "The Worst Person in Sports" on a nationally syndicated sports show.
Soccer teams around the world have long used the phrase "The 12th Man" to describe their own rabid fans.
This is NOTHING NEW -- it has never been about aggy, nor copied from aggy, nor are these other teams aware (to the benefit of their collective sanity) that aggy even exists.
Yet... if you ask an aggy, they'll swear until they're maroon in the face that THEY INVENTED the "12th Man" phrase and tradition, and that they own it.
On September 3, 2016, after an injury to their starting quarterback, Navy turned to the stands to find their backup quarterback.
Gee? Sound familiar?
Except THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
With the Midshipmen facing Fordham in their season opener, Smith appeared to injure his knee in the first half and was spotted on the sideline with a brace on his right leg and crutches. According to multiple reporters on-site, freshman backup Malcolm Perry did not even dress for the game, but was in the stands wearing his customary dress whites. He was flagged down from the stands and sent to the locker room to suit up.
Unlike the over-hyped aggy fantasy of E. King Gill, WHO NEVER PLAYED IN THE GAME, Perry actually did enter the game and led Navy on a 90-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
- Dallas Morning News, July 14 1942, http://www.hornsports.com/docs/aggy/DMN_Jul_16_1942.pdf
- Waco News Tribune, Jan 3 1922, http://www.hornsports.com/docs/aggy/Jinx_Tucker.pdf
- Texas A&M and The 12th Man. The Story of the 21st Man., Randolph Duke, Hornsports.com, October 4 2013, http://www.hornsports.com/articles/featured1395317068/texas-am-and-the-12th-man-the-story-of-th-r2854
- The Original "Twelfth Man", E King Gill speaking notes for the aggy Muster - San Jacinto Day, 1964, http://www.hornsports.com/docs/aggy/theoriginal12thman0001.pdf
- aggy Trademark filing - fraudulent?, http://www.hornsports.com/docs/aggy/Trademark.pdf
- aggy "Batallion" 1921, http://www.hornsports.com/docs/aggy/1921_Battalion.pdf
- "Why A&M is Just the Worst, The Giving Steve, http://www.thegivingsteve.com/why-am-is-just-the-worst/
- After injury to starter Smith, Navy brings in freshman quarterback from stands, Sports Illustrated, http://www.si.com/college-football/2016/09/03/navy-tago-smith-injury-malcolm-perry-freshman-stands
- Navy brings in quarterback from the stands after starter goes down, USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/independents/2016/09/03/navy-quarterback-tago-smith-injured-malcolm-perry-comes-from-brigade/89833120/