THE BEST TRADITION ANYWHEREIn our last installment of the Cultural Guide to Aggieland we poked gentle fun at the Ags for their sillier traditions - yell practice, spearing frogs and magical dogs. But this second installment of the Guide will be done in a more serious tone, befitting the greatest tradition in the history of college football - the 12th Man.
The story's pretty well known by now, but is worth repeating. In 1921, Texas A&M completed a successful 5-1-2 season and accepted an invitation to play Centre College of Kentucky in the Dixie Classic - a Dallas bowl game that begat the Cotton Bowl. Centre entered the game ranked #1 in the nation at 10-0, having outscored its opponents 320-6 on the season.
The underdog Aggies fought valiantly and led 22-14 in the second half. The battle, however, had claimed many casualties on the Texas side, and coach D.X. Bible was down to only a handful of reserves. Spotting former player E. King Gill in the student section, Coach Bible asked whether he would suit up as an insurance policy of sorts. Gill did, to the delight of his teammates and Aggie fans. When the final gun sounded, A&M had its 22-14 upset and E. King Gill was the only substitute left standing on their sideline.
Gill later said "I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me.”
The magnitude of the victory ensured that Gill would go down in Aggie lore as the "12th man." Soon, the concept of the 12th man was extended to include all Aggies, who were expected to support the team as Gill had done. The genius of this tradition is that it isn't tied to a single game, a trophy or a ritual. The 12th man is an "always-on" tradition that informs all aspects of the A&M football program and campus life.
When Jackie Sherrill led Texas A&M in the 1980s, he decided to take the 12th man to another level. He had to do something - a disappointing 5-6 campaign in 1982 had boosters sharpening their axes. To build some political capital with Aggie Nation, Sherrill held auditions for interested members of the student body and formed an all-walk on kick coverage unit. They debuted on September 3, 1983 against a team that was recently notorious for its kick return game - the California Golden Bears.