If you're just becoming familiar with the Seattle Seahawks, then you might want to start with the 12th Man. The Seahawks have become one of the best teams in professional football because of their tremendous home-field advantage. They have gone 26-2 at CenturyLink Field over the last three seasons, including a 4-0 record in home playoff games. A big reason for that advantage is the "12th Man," a.k.a, the Seattle fans, who support the 11 players on the field and who are regarded as perhaps the loudest fanbase in the NFL.
The 12th Man has been making a difference in Seattle for decades. The team even retired the number 12 in honor of its fans in 1984. However, the crowd noise has gained even more notoriety in recent years for its drastic effect on opponents. On Nov. 27, 2005, the New York Giants committed 11 false start penalties and missed three field goals in a loss in Seattle. The next day, head coach Mike Holmgren dedicated the game ball to the 12th Man.
Under Holmgren's successor Pete Carroll, the 12th Man's legend has only grown. The Seahawks twice set world records for crowd noise, registering 136.6 decibels in a 2013 game against the San Francisco 49ers before breaking the record several months later at 137.6 decibels against the New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks proudly display the nearly eardrum-rupturing level of noise inside the Clink on their official website:
The 12th Man has even been known to set off minor earthquakes, as it did in 2011 when running back Marshawn Lynch went "Beast Mode" on the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. Lynch had a 67-yard touchdown run that has become legendary, and is now affectionately known as the "Beast Quake."
Wait, why the "12th Man"?
Each team can have no more than 11 players on the field at any time -- 12 players would be a penalty. But if fans are loud enough, they can make things more difficult for the away team, thus acting like the home teams' figurative 12th man on the field.
Do other teams have a 12th Man?
Several other NFL teams have also honored their fans as the team's 12th Man. The Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts put the 12th Man on their Wall of Fame and Ring of Honor, respectively. The Seahawks took the tradition a step further by retiring "12" as a jersey number.
Are Seattle fans really that loud?
Yes ... well, sort of. There's no doubt that Seahawks fans are proud of their reputation and are willing to do a lot to uphold it, but don't discount the effect of CenturyLink Field. Team owner Paul Allen specifically requested that the stadium be designed to retain crowd noise. Just take a look at a picture:
As you can see, the stadium's semi-enclosed design puts fans seemingly on top of the field. Open air stadiums often seem quieter because sound escapes up into the atmosphere. CenturyLink's stacked second deck and canopy bounce sound downward back onto the fans and players, creating a cacophony.
Are Seahawks fans the original 12th Man?
Nope! Not even close, really. The Texas A&M Aggies can rightfully claim to be the originators of the tradition, going back to 1921. The team (then known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) was coming to the end of a brutally tough season. The Aggies were beaten up and tired heading into their season finale against Centre College in Kentucky, a team that featured two All-Americans and had much fresher legs.
The two teams played in Dallas on Jan. 2, and Centre College was favored by 20 points. The Aggies fought hard, but found themselves low on reserves and had to go into the press box to bring down another student named E. King Gill to suit up as a backup. Gill didn't end up playing in the game, but he was ready to go if needed and the Aggies pulled off the upset, 22-14.
Yell leader Red Thompson wrote at the time:
I wonder that sometime these other teams would need an extra man. We are always ready, willing and able. So we will be the Twelfth Man.
The 12th Man came to represent the Texas A&M student body; always ready, willing and able to do its part at a moment's notice.
Isn't it kind of lame that multiple teams claim the 12th Man?
That probably depends on your own personal views. The Aggies weren't too happy that the Seahawks had claimed the term, however. The school sued the franchise in 2006, claiming that the Seahawks had violated Texas A&M's trademark on "12th Man." The two sides settled, and now Seattle can distribute (not sell) promotional materials using the term and raise a flag with the number "12" on it before games in western states, all for $100,000 and a $5,000 annual licensing fee.
The "12" flag has become a popular item in Seattle since, and after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year, the team was approved for a trademark on the flag. The team also tried to file trademarks for the number "12" in all uses, but was rejected because "12" had also been trademarked by a NASCAR team and a hotel.
Will the 12th Man affect the Super Bowl?
While the 12th Man has become synonymous with CenturyLink Field, the tradition seems to have outgrown the stadium's structural bounds. Expect Seahawks fans to be rowdy wherever they go, including Glendale for Super Bowl 49. The New England Patriots are no doubt thankful that they aren't playing in Seattle, but that doesn't mean a ferocious Seahawks contingent won't make its presence known in Arizona.