In the same summer that a Belgian-Brazilian-owned St. Louis brewery labeled a beer “America” (a brand that really could use protection), trademark law proclaims there can only be one 12th Man.
According to a new deal struck with Texas A&M University, the Seattle Seahawks will no longer mention the 12th Man on social media, and the popular reference to hardcore Hawks fans must be removed from the giant donor ring that circles Century Link Field.
Seahawks fans will now and forever be referred to as “12,” or the Twelves, a gender-neutral term that’s been gaining popularity in recent years.
The deal allows Washington’s NFL team to keep the number, but it can’t have the word “man” next to it. Oddly enough, for the privilege of using the number 12, the Seahawks still will have to pay the Texas university $28,000 per year.
Even though 12th man has become common usage for football fans, Texas A&M apparently wins numerical squatters rights by virtue of the “we said it first” clause.
The Aggies first secured their trademark in 1990, putting 12th Man all over merchandise as a reminder of a legendary story that dates to 1922 when football helmets were still made of leather and fleece.
As the story goes, the Aggies were getting creamed by Centre College. After exhausting all their reserve players, the only man left standing was E. King Gilfrom, a fan who saw his team struggling and came down to the field to serve.
Gilfrom never played in the game, but he would be forever known as the 12th Man.
The Seahawks also have a cherished 12th Man story reaching back to the time of mullets — 1984, when the fan’s cheers were well-known for giving the Hawks a home-field advantage.
The faithful have continued to gain fame for their noise over the years, including 68,000 of them who made a record-breaking ruckus in November 2006 — around the same time the Aggies and the Seahawks first settled out of court.
Both sides lawyered up in a battle to preserve and protect intellectual property, a concept the Seahawks know a little something about. They, too, have gone on the offensive in the branding wars. Since October 2013, the team has filed about two dozen trademark applications over the number 12.
In 2015, they contemplated a petitioned to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opposing the fictional District 12 from The Hunger Games movie and book. They also sought to corner the market on words like “Go Hawks” and “Boom.”
There is no 12th Man when it comes to raking in the cash; the Seahawks will take it from here, thanks anyway, and see you in court.
But for Northwest fans, the concept of the 12th Man goes beyond branding and money-making and enters the realm of things more profound. A Seahawks win is an integrated win; the fans know it, and so do the players and coaches.
Unfortunately, in America (the land, not the beer), trademark law is king. There can be but one 12th Man, and he’s been summoned back to College Station, Texas.
Seahawks fans, of course, may say something different. They may tell you that He Who Must Not be Named is staying right here.