Will The Real 12th Man Please Stand Up? - By Viktor Figeczki
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|When Pittsburgh resident and Steelers fan James Henry Smith died last July, the funeral parlor was told to replicate Smith's home for the viewing of the body. The deceased was dressed in black-and-gold pajamas and placed in a Lay-Z-boy in front of a TV playing loops of Pittsburgh highlights, thus illustrating that even death is no obstacle for the Steelers' 12th man.
Recently, fans of the Seattle Seahawks have labeled themselves the 12th Man, although the term was originally coined by Texas A&M University in 1922. During Seattle's run to Super Bowl XL, a flag commemorating the 12th Man flew from the Space Needle, despite legal action by the Texas school. The two sides reached an out-of-court settlement May 8. Among the terms granted was Seahawks owner Paul Allen's use of the idiom only in its broadcast area. The registered trademark of A&M is upheld in the rest of the country.
Seriously, though; who cares?
The legal battle between the 'Hawks and the university can be likened to a pair of drunks fighting over a woman while a suave stud sweeps her off her feet. The rights to the phrase "12th Man" is a moot point, because this concept is already a way of life in Pittsburgh.
Steelers Nation, what suave studs you are...
Former linebacker Kevin Greene once said "We're coming from everywhere. We play with 15 guys in the huddle. We have guys parachuting from airplanes, fans coming from out of the stands to help us go after people."
Steelers-Mania is a force, and it has reached such intensity that the front offices of opponents are now taking drastic steps to prevent Pittsburgh fans from gaining access to their venues.
In the lead-up to this past season's divisional playoff game against the Colts, the Indianapolis administration distributed an email reading "We are asking those of you who have tickets but cannot attend the game to do everything possible to make sure that your tickets end up in the hands of Colts fans." Ticket brokers were even asked to refuse payment from purchasers dialing from a western Pennsylvania area code.
Good. It's a symptom of fear.
In December 2002, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati was overrun by fans waving Terrible Towels. The Bengals, naturally, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh. The Cincinnati Post later printed disgruntled Bengals' fans' emails. Jeff from Loveland wrote: "What's happening right now, when the other team's fans seem to outnumber us ... They come here and get in our face. They say things like 'We own this stadium' ... That hurts".
I bet it does.
Which is precisely why Pittsburgh's invading army is the genuine 12th Man. Steelers fans mobilize like a herd of wildebeests every Sunday between September and February, happily making the journey to even the most remote corners of the country so they can lend energy and enthusiasm to their representatives in the arena.
Nowhere was this dedication more evident than at Detroit's Ford Field during Super Bowl XL, when the stadium was virtually annexed by western Pennsylvania and the Steelers enjoyed a de facto home-field advantage.
Where was Seattle's 12th man? He must have been stuck in the bathroom for four quarters.
Every clan of allegiance in the NFL has its own set of recognizable and unique habits. The Cheeseheads of Lambeau Field moon the enemy in the parking lot and hug leaping Packers as they celebrate their touchdowns. Philly fans restrict themselves to starting brawls, burning effigies of Terrell Owens, and throwing paraphernalia from the stands (mostly at visitors but sometimes at the Eagles, too).
The modus operandi of the Black-and-Gold consists of penetrating opponents' stadiums and waving their Terrible Towels deep in the heart of enemy territory. A few have even been spotted on U.S. tanks in Iraq. Steelers faithful aren't deterred by postal codes. They travel, they voice their loyalty, and they will the Steelers to victory.
Pittsburgh is 16-3 on the road since the start of 2004, best in the league. That's not entirely accurate. The games may have been played outside of Heinz Field, but the Steelers' entourage is notorious for making itself at home.
"Su casa es mi casa" (Your house is my house!). That's what being the 12th man is all about.