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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Why the 12th Man Matters

Have you recognized your silent support team recently?

Those who know me know that I’m a fan of all things Texas A&M. Attending school in College Station, TX was one of the best experiences of my life. For those of you who don’t know much about Texas A&M, it’s a school deeply rooted in traditions. From midnight yell practice to Silver Taps to placing pennies on the statue of Ol’ Sul Ross before exams to simply greeting fellow Aggies with a hearty, “howdy,” there are traditions everywhere.

For people who didn’t attend school at Texas A&M, these traditions are confusing, strange, and downright weird. However, we have a saying in Aggieland: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it – and from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” While this accurately sums it up, I am going to attempt to explain one of my favorite Aggie traditions and how it relates to all of us: The 12th Man.

Many times, fans at football games are referred to as the 12th Man, as their vocal support is the extra member of an 11-person team. What you may not know is that this term originated at Texas A&M University 99 years ago. I could write the origin story, but my alma matter does a much more eloquent job than I could ever do:

"On Jan. 2, 1922, the heavily outgunned Aggies were facing the top-ranked Centre College Praying Colonels on the gridiron in the Dixie Classic in Dallas. An Aggie by the name of E. King Gill, a squad player for Texas A&M’s football team, was up in the press box helping reporters identify players on the field below — and what was happening on the field wasn’t pretty.

The Aggies found themselves plagued by injuries, with their reserves seemingly dwindling with every play. As Texas A&M Coach Dana X. Bible looked across his rapidly emptying bench, he suddenly remembered Gill’s presence in the stands. Bible waved Gill down to the sideline and told him to suit up. Gill ran under the bleachers and put on the uniform of injured running back Heine Weir, who had been knocked out of the game in the first quarter.

Gill returned to the sideline, where he stood ready to play for the entirety of the game. When the last play was run, the Aggies found that they had pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college football history, winning the game 22-14.

And Gill remained standing, the only player left on the team’s bench."

This willingness to serve his team has been passed down from generation to generation of Aggies for nearly 100 years. Since that symbol of unity, support, and loyalty in 1922, Texas A&M students have stood for entire football games as a symbol of the 12th Man on the team. Just writing this gives me chills as I think of that unwavering support students (and former students) have for their team – a team they will never suit up for.

In business, we all have our own version of 12th Man: those people who support us, cheer us on, and encourage us when the chips are down. While they may not work directly alongside us as we prepare presentations, go on sales calls, or create marketing campaigns, they are silently there just waiting to assist and support. When you stop and really think about it, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to have that kind of support. I believe it’s time we recognize the people who make up our 12th Man.

The challenge of creating a list like this is not hurting someone’s feelings because they are left out. Therefore, please know that this is by no means a comprehensive list – that’s simply not possible. Also, I have excluded current coworkers and family members as that should be an understood member of anyone’s 12th Man. With that in mind, I’d like to share (in alphabetical order) my 12th Man and thank them for their enduring support:

Michele Bell, Paul Bellantone, Lisa Bibb, Roger Burnett, Bruce Cohen, John Cudahy, Brittany David, Lindsey Davis, Dale Denham, Lori Eaton, Mike Eaton, Steve Engels, Bill Feldberg, Mark Farrar, Robert Fiveash, Dana Geiger, Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, Charity Gibson, Tom Goos, Catherine Graham, Mark Graham, Rich Graham, Rick Greene, Kirby Hasseman, Tim Hill, Jeff Jacobs, Brian Jolin, Dwight Jones, Greg Jones, Paul Kieweit, Shannon Laredo, Bobby Lehew, Keith Lofton, Jason Lucash, Terry McGuire, Janet McMaster, Troy Minaldi, Russ Mogell, Joel Moore, Summer Nichols, Jason Nokes, Jon Norris, Kevin Parma, Dan Pigott, Brian Porter, Cliff Quicksell, Nadav Raviv, Michael Reisbaum, Pat Richter, Josh Robbins, Rachel Robichaud, Steve Rone, Gary Rosenberg, Danny Rosin, Mandi Rudd, David Shultz, Don Spencer, Ali Stone, Mike Szymczak, Ben Taylor, Matt Traverse, Miles Wadsworth, Dustin Wicks, Robert Williams, Justin Zavadil, and Dana Zezzo.

As I said, this isn’t a representative list by any stretch of the imagination. For anyone left off this list, please know it was inadvertent and I apologize in advance. However, I’m willing to run that risk because it’s important to salute people who are invested in your success and have nothing to gain as a result. In that spirit, thank you to all of you – on and off the above list – who have been there for me yesterday, today, and, hopefully, tomorrow.

As we rapidly approach Thanksgiving, I’d like to suggest starting an annual tradition: take some time the week before Thanksgiving and thank your 12th Man. Much like E. King Gill, they may never be in the trenches alongside you, but you know who they are and can feel that support lifting you all year long.

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