Wednesday, February 01, 2006

12th Man hullabaloo

Excuse me, but I can't stop laughing. The Seattle Seahawks should be focusing in on their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history this week, but instead the entire Pacific Northwest is in a tizzy over the use of the phrase "12th Man." The Seahawks seem to think anyone can use it and that its public domain. A&M originated the concept--literally--in 1922 and trademarked the term years ago. And any of you who are familiar with trademark law will know that if you don't defend it, you lose it. It's pretty cut and dried:
A local district judge on Monday signed a temporary restraining order against the Seattle Seahawks, directing them to stop using the 12th Man slogan until a ruling is made on whether it is a licensed trademark belonging to Texas A&M University.

The restraining order, filed by A&M and signed by District Judge J.D. Langley, sets a 1:30 p.m. Thursday hearing in the 85th District Court at the Brazos County Courthouse.

Seattle, which will play Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL on Sunday in Detroit, has received national attention in recent weeks for its devoted fans, whom it calls the 12th Man.

Predictably, this has not gone down well in Seattle. Witness Steve Kelley's clever rejoinder:
Yo, A&M! The way your football team has been losing the past few years — 16-19 the past three seasons — you might try your luck with a 12th and a 13th Man.

And while you're at it, why not patent some cheers like "Hold that line," or "Block that kick." Or "Hit 'em again. Hit 'em again. Harder. Harder." And sue any cheerleading team that dares to use them.

For the record, A&M does not have cheerleaders, nor does it use such clich├ęd motivators such as "Hit 'em again" or "Block that kick." Nor has Kyle Field ever been profaned by Aggies uttering the immortal "Two bits..." cheer, preferring to leave that to the high school ranks, but hey, if the Seahawks take a liking to it, I'm sure the folks in College Station won't mind. But then again, it's always easier to shoot your mouth off when your brains aren't loaded, and making up cheap insults always garners more respect than doing actual research.

Fact is, over the past decade, both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills included "12th Man" in their marketing campaigns in some fashion, but quickly abandoned the phrasing when contacted by A&M. Also, Miller Brewing Company dropped an advertising campaign referencing the 12th Man as well because of A&M. And I've already talked about the ESPN 12th Man contest that had to be licensed from A&M. That's called precedence. If these institutions--including the Seahawks' peers in the NFL--acquiesced to the validity of A&M's trademark claim, then how can the Seahawks reasonably claim they are exempt from the trademark restrictions?

Ultimately, though, it's Kevin Blackistone at the Dallas Morning News who hits the nail on the head:
There is not an Aggie joke here. This may not be serious business, but it is business nonetheless.

For what A&M has just done is interject its name at no cost to itself into the biggest sports event of the year, where seconds of advertisement are sold for millions of dollars. It's the kind of move the inventors of Guinness brew would term "brilliant!"

Hard to argue with that logic. In a week where the media is dominated by Super Bowl hype, A&M is front and center in sports sections from coast to coast, with attention everywhere from Sports Illustrated to The Detroit Free Press to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. All those Big, Bad Aggies picking on poor, helpless Seattle. Personally, I'm loving it. This is the funniest thing I've seen since the last inane, silly story the media glommed onto before last year's Super Bowl...

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