In January of 1922, Texas A&M took the field against mighty Centre College, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, in the Dixie Classic (now known as the Cotton Bowl). The Aggies fought hard and kept the game close, but as the game wore on, the strength and power of Centre was literally taking its toll. Before long, Aggies coach Dana X. Bible realized he was running short on players. Desperate for bodies, the coach recalled that a deep reserve by the name of E. King Gill had been sent to the press box before the game to help reporters identify players. Bible sent word to the press box that Gill was needed.
A Tradition is Born:
Gill responded. In dramatic fashion, he descended the grandstand, reported to the sideline and even suited up--just in case he was needed. Gill never actually took the field that day, and the Aggies pulled off a stunning 22-14 upset. But the great symbolism of Gill coming out of the stands to stand alongside his Aggies struck a chord with the Texas A&M faithful. Just like that, the 12th Man legend was born. "I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not,” Gill said afterward. “I simply stood by in case my team needed me."
A New Twist:
When coach Jackie Sherrill arrived at Texas A&M in the mid 1980s, he seized on the 12th Man legend by creating the 12th Man Kick-Off Team, a special teams unit made up completely of student walk-ons. Besides being ridiculously popular with Aggies fans, the idea actually produced on-field results: Sherrill’s 12th Man unit held opponents to one of the lowest kick-return averages in the old Southwest Conference. After Sherrill’s departure, coach R.C. Slocum changed the tradition by allowing just one 12th Man on the kickoff unit. Later, Dennis Franchione revived the 12th Man unit, but only used it on rare occasions.
Fans as the 12th Man:
It’s unclear what new Aggies coach Mike Sherman will do with the 12th Man tradition. But this much is certain: Aggies fans will continue to take it very, very seriously. A large sign running along the upper deck of A&M’s massive Kyle Field proclaims the stadium as “Home of the 12th Man,” and visiting teams aren’t likely to take issue with that. Aggies fans take pride in standing throughout the entirety of their home games and making as much noise as humanly possible. As a result, Kyle Field is recognized as one of the loudest stadiums in college football and one of the toughest venues for visiting teams to play.