D.C. United, Texas A&M and the 12th Man


(Via Screaming-Eagles.com.)

“FYI #Broncos, the 12th Man belongs to Texas A&M,” the school’s vice president for marketing and communications wrote in January, when the Broncos had the nerve to deploy a “12th Man” flag before a playoff game. “We saw the flag today and will defend our trademark.”

That was hardly the first defense. AD Bill Byrne said in 2006 that he had gotten e-mails from supporters, complaining about Seattle’s “brazen use of the 12th Man theme at their home playoff games,” according to ESPN.com. The school eventually reached a licensing agreement with the Seahawks.

The school has also taken issue with other NFL teams’ use of the term in the past.

And next up? Well, it could be D.C. United. For real.

Via KBTX.com, a College Station station:

According to an A&M spokesperson, the university’s external trademark counsel is looking into the issue with RFK Stadium, home of DC United. A former university employee recently attended a game there and sent A&M a picture of a sign reading “Home of the 12th Man” that was hanging in the arena.

Thank heavens for zealous former university employees, making the world a better place one obscure banner at a time.

The phrase’s local use, I’m told, started with United players during the early days of MLS, when the club had perhaps the most boisterous fans in the fledgling league.

“We need them to be our 12th man, to really give us a boost,” Bruce Arena said in 1997.

The crowd was unbelievable,” Jeff Agoos said in 1998, after United advanced to its third straight MLS Cup. “From the first minute until the 90th minute, they have always been behind us starting back in ‘96. This sure would be different, without this crowd. They talk about the 12th man — that’s really emphasized here in D.C.”

D.C. United fans come from nearly every country on Earth,” then-president Bill Clinton said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony that same year. “Their diversity and spirit add to the life of this, our capital city, as I am sure the representatives here would attest. Kevin Payne says that the fans are the 12th man in your winning efforts.”

Indeed, Barra Brava members have been so bold as to wear No. 12 United jerseys for years, brazenly borrowing a number that clearly belongs to just one fan base.

Anyhow, I went ahead and reached out to D.C. United, to see what they thought about this latest news from Texas.

“D.C. United was contacted by Texas A&M in 2008 regarding the presence of a ‘12th Man’ sign at RFK Stadium,” the club said in a statement. “In our response, we noted that our club makes no commercial use of the phrase and that the sign is merely in recognition of the fans that support our club. We have not heard back from the university on the matter and believe that to be indication they’d reasonably acknowledged our fans also loyally support our club.”

Seems reasonable to me. So let’s all just be reasonable here.

(Image taken with love from the Screaming Eagles. Although it’s likely a copyrighted and trademarked image. Don’t sue me, please. And thanks to Reader Rob for the heads-up.)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.

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