The Origin Of The 12th Man

Steve Raible was on Brock and Salk Monday and during the interview, he was asked about the origins of the 12th man. I thought that you Addicts might enjoy hearing the story as related by Raible and from what I recall about those days when professional football first came to Seattle since I saw most of it first hand. If you want to listen to Steve tell his part of the story, you can listen here. His explanation comes shortly after the segment starts at the first of the interview segment.

The 12th man actually goes back to even before the Seahawks took the field for the first time. Before they were even the Seahawks. After an effort that started in 1972, the Seahawk franchise was awarded to Seattle Professional Football Inc. headed by the Nordstrom family on June 4th, 1974. On December 5, 1974, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced the official signing of the franchise agreement by Lloyd W. Nordstrom, representing the Nordstrom family as majority partners for the consortium. As a side note, Lloyd died in January of 1976 and never saw the franchise he worked so hard to get on its feet take the field.

In 1975, as they completed all the groundwork to put the franchise together and set it up, the first professional football game was played in Seattle which was an exhibition game played between the Steelers and the Jets featuring a couple of pretty fair quarterbacks in woolly Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw. This was a teaser to further wet the appetite of Pacific Northwest football fans who were already at a fever pitch over the award of the Seahawk franchise by the NFL the previous year. Seattle had always been a fanatical football town following the University of Washington Huskies so football wasn’t anything new to them but watching the best players the sport had to offer was new. To continue reading about the 12th man, please press “Read more…” below. 

Some of you may have noticed that I sometimes reference having been a Seahawk fan before there was any Seahawks and by that I mean I was at that first ever professional football game played at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Like most other people in the stands that day, I had never seen professional football and previously had only watched high school and college football. I was absolutely astounded by what I witnessed. College football was pretty good but on one series, Namath drove the Jets down the field completing 4 consecutive passes in a row and covering 65 yards scoring on the 4th pass. I had never seen such precision football before or watched a team that looked like a well oiled machine execute like that.

Myself and another 60,000 fans or more were hooked on professional football right then and there. To this day, I still remember how loud the fans were that day at Husky Stadium and how enthusiastically they cheered their favorite team whether it was the Jets or Steelers. It seemed to be pretty evenly split and many fans were just cheering the best played football they’d ever seen on both sides. I believe that the 12th man was born that day at Husky Stadium and started it’s evolution towards the day it would emerge as a fully grown adult in the Kingdome as the Seahawk’s franchise took the field for the first time in the fall of 1976. I stood out in the rain for hours to get my season tickets when they went on sale later that year and still have them as a proud charter season ticket holder.

The fans were behind the new team right from the very beginning as the Seahawks in short order became the winningest expansion franchise in NFL history after they started play in the fall in 1976. In less than a year, the team not only sold out the brand new Kingdome but had a 20,000 person waiting list for season tickets in the future. The Seattle football fans were rabid and quickly found out that in a closed building like the Kingdome, you could make a deafening din that highly impacted an opponents ability to hear the cadence and snap count as well as any audibles or other information a quarterback tried to relate to his team before the snap. Teams started complaining to the league office. At first, the NFL’s response to that tactic was to try and legislate it out of existence by threatening a 15 yard penalty to the home team in such an instance.

When the Raiders came to play the Seahawks early in the franchise’s existence, the crowd got particularly raucous and the Kingdome was its usual deafening roar from the onset of the game. The Raiders complained bitterly and the officials let the Raiders quarterback step back from the center over and over when the crowd got too loud for them to hear anything which became every possession. Every time the quarterback stepped back though, the crowd just got louder and more vigorous in their protest. I was at that Raider game and I remember being amazed that the Seahawk fans could get any louder but each time the quarterback stepped back from center, they managed to take it up another notch and just booed at the referee’s attempts to signal that they should quiet down. I also remember discussing what we would do if the officials actually threw the flag and assessed the threatened 15 yard penalty with other fans around me and the general consensus was that if they did that, we were going to be so loud, they wouldn’t be able to continue the game. The Seattle football fans weren’t about to back down from the league on the subject of it’s right to make noise and cheer on its team in its own stadium. The entity that would become the 12th man won it’s right to existence that day and has never looked back. I’ve always treasured that game in my memories because that was the game where the fans stood up to the league and won the right to be loud in support of its team as I remember it.

Although not known as the 12th man yet, the loud fans were already an important factor in Seattle football and they were here to stay. Even the threat of the 15 yard penalty didn’t faze them one bit and to my knowledge, the NFL never went through with the threat to penalize anyone for making too much noise since all that did was to incite everybody to be even louder. As Steve Raible put it, it had become a badge of courage in Seattle to see how loud they could be and it stuck and carried over and was eventually named the 12th man. Now Qwest field has taken it to a whole new level and stories abound about how the stadium was built to focus the sound on the field and make it the most deafening place in the NFL which it definitely is if you listen to what other fans and especially players who come here and play against the Seahawks will tell you. There is no proof that the stadium was built to focus sound as some have claimed but it has become a legendary place to come and play because of that factor.

Making it official and paying a tribute to the raucous fans that made the Kingdome the loudest stadium in the NFL, the Seahawks retired the number 12 jersey on December 15, 1984 only 8 years after they started play. Since then, #12 Jerseys have been sold by the team and worn by Seahawk fans, usually with the name “Fan” on the back. The team also initiated a ceremony that takes place before every home game in which a flag with the #12 on it called the 12th man flag is raised by a prominent individual. During the 2005 season, the fans were recognized with the presentation of a special game ball for their efforts in a game against the New York Giants. In that game, the Giants committed 11 false start penalties mostly because of the crowd noise. The Seahawks lead the league in false start penalties committed by their opponents largely due to the presence of the 12th man and the absolute loudest and rockinist stadium in the NFL. The New England Patriots even accused the Seahawks of piping in crown noise through their public address system and asked the league for an investigation into the practice. Nothing was ever found and the Pats took to  practicing in an indoor facility with deafening noise blaring at them to prepare for playing Seattle at Qwest field. The ultimate tribute to the 12th man is that they have to be game planned for. How special is that?
The team’s use of the phrase “12th Man” was in a legal limbo for a while between 2005 and 2006 when Texas A&M University ended up suing the team for trademark infringement over it’s 12th man tradition. However, before the case went to trial, the parties were able to settle out of court. Seattle agreed to acknowledge that Texas A&M had ownership rights to the 12th Man slogan and in return, the Seahawks were allowed to continue to use the phrase. The 12th man even survived a court challenge to live another day.

The 12th man is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest to this very day. Happy 35th birthday to the 12th man who started out as a reaction to professional football coming to Seattle during an exhibition game at Husky Stadium and grew into the most feared single player in the league. Just ask our opponents. That is, if they can hear you.

And now you all know the rest of the story.