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Saturday, January 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Turf war: Texas A&M tells Hawks to back off on 12th Man

Seattle Times business reporter

The 12th Man is under attack, but not by Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, called dibs on the "12th Man" in 1922, taking formal claim with a 1990 trademark on the phrase, which refers to fans being there for the 11 players on the football field.

The Aggies don't like anybody else using it. No matter if it's just the No. 12 on a blue flag — the ones you've seen throughout the region.

Athletic Director Bill Byrne wrote on an Aggie Web site Wednesday that the university would tackle "the Seattle Seahawks' brazen use of the 12th Man theme at their home playoff games."

The university has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Seahawks. "It's one of the dearest traditions we have," said Steve Moore, A&M's chief marketing officer.

A Seahawks team official said they hadn't seen the letter as of Friday night.

Seahawks fans greeted the idea that someone could own the "12th Man" with disbelief.

"The law's a funny thing," said Karen Ford, who says that she and her ex-husband Randy Ford suggested the Seahawks retire jersey No. 12 in honor of the fans. The Seahawks did so in 1984. For the Aggies, who have been abuzz over the trespass, this is no laughing matter.

"The 12th Man symbolizes the entire student body. Every Aggie knows that story by heart, and it's taken very seriously," said George Dorrell, a 1984 A&M graduate who described the school's traditions as "etched and burned very deeply in everyone's soul."

As the story goes, E. King Gill, a former football player who joined the basketball team, was called from the stands by the coach as the Aggies' reserves wore thin during a game in 1922. Gill suited up and stood ready. His team won, and there's a statue of him at the football stadium.

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"I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not," he's quoted as saying on the Aggie Traditions Web site. "I simply stood by in case my team needed me."

Aggie fans now stand while their team is on the field, regardless of the score. (Another Aggie tradition is never to say lose.)

"No one can duplicate our dedication to our school and our sports," Dorrell said from his Dallas-area home.

The Aggies stopped the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears from using their idea. And the word is out in the licensing and merchandising industry that using "12th Man" is a no-no. "They really don't give you the option to buy things that say '12th Man,' " said Shannon Burley, advertising director for G.I. Joes, which sells jerseys, car flags and towels in Seahawks blue emblazoned with No. 12. "In Seattle, it's just kind of known that that's what it stands for."

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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