They’re everywhere. Flapping from truck beds and car antennas, beaming across T-shirts, and obscuring windows all over town. It’s super uncool to be a major piece of urban architecture without one (aka Hawkitechture!). How can you not get caught up in it? It’s not just an emblem of the conference champs for whom we’re all cheering, it’s an emblem of ourselves; the 12th Men and Women. Yay us!
It’s both a thrilling community phenomenon and an astounding feat of PR.
After last weekend’s epic conference championship clincher Pete Carroll and Paul Allen both graciously thanked “all the Twelves.” My wife and I cheered our heads off. But it’s important to note the wording. Not Twelfth Men, just Twelves.
It may seem like a harmless truncation for the sake of brevity and possibly gender neutrality, but it’s actually more, and it’s genius.
In 2004, a year after I arrived in Seattle, the Hawks weren’t doing so hot. Suffering the longest drought of playoff victories of any NFL team, they were in need of a brand boost. Bill Chapin, the newly hired director of marketing, decided to reignite the near dormant 12th Man concept and make it the crux of a new strategy. It was started back in the 1980s. In 2005, the reinvigorated crowd roared enough to inflict 24 false-start penalties. The Twelfth Man was back. Later that year the Seahawks claimed the NFC championship and went on to the Super Bowl in Detroit.
But the Hawks don’t own the term “Twelfth Man”, they’ve been licensing it since 2006 from Texas A&M for $5000 a year. It probably is the most brilliant PR campaign for any team in NFL history. Just look at Seattle, right now, and you’ll see – everyone is a 12 – it is all over the city!
After the license expires in 2016, the Seahawks can’t legally use it all. But they can use the number 12. So what do they do? They pivot. They negotiate, likely at a much higher rate than $5000 a year!
So now we’re simply Twelves. Do we need the rest? Nope. The cumulative history of the term, from the retiring of the number 12 in 1984 to the record—and eardrum—breaking roar of CenturyLink Field to the crushing victory of Super Bowl XLVIII is all neatly packed into one blue number. 12. Boom.
Go Hawks! Win on Sunday. Make us, the Twelves, shine yet once again.
Sincerely, a 12th Man.