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February 4, 2006
Is Super Bowl XL Steelers Vs Stealers?

One of the more inspiring stories of the two teams vying for the Super Bowl win has been the relationship between the teams and their home-town fans. Everyone knows that Pittsburgh lives and dies each week with their beloved Steelers, more so than with any of their other professional teams, and that the character of the team itself reflects the character of its home town: gritty, hard-nosed, blue-collar, sometimes down but never out. For the Seahawks, the team doesn't necessarily share in the same qualities as its setting, but this season the team forged a special bond with its fans at home. The 12th Man flag, raised at every home game and its logo sold on towels, t-shirts, and other merchandise, reflected the team's appreciation for fan support making them almost invincible at home.

However, Texas A&M now says that the Seahawks are the ultimate Stealers, er, thieves -- because the 12th Man has been an Aggie tradition for over 80 years, and a trademarked one at that:

Here at Texas A&M University, a school obsessed with tradition, there's no more sacred a ritual than standing during an entire football game, just in case you're needed on the field as the 12th Man.

So when the Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks embraced the "12th Man" theme this season, the school moved decisively: A&M took the Seahawks to court, arguing that the 84-year-old Aggie tradition is so central to the school's identity that the phrase has been trademarked — twice. ...

The 12th Man tradition at A&M dates to 1922, when a student was pulled from the stands to suit up for a game in case the injury-plagued Aggies needed an assist.

The idea has evolved into a seriously regarded commitment by fans to stand ready to support the team. The school sells 12th Man merchandise, a 12th Man Foundation supports the athletic program, and the stands at Kyle Field are adorned with giant letters that read "Home of the 12th Man."

The Seahawks' history with the 12th Man dates to the mid-1980s, when raucous fans raised the roof at the now-demolished Kingdome. In honor of fans, the team retired the number 12 in 1984.

Ironically, this story appears in the Los Angeles Times, a city so inept that it managed to lose two NFL franchises within a decade because only 12 people would pay to see the Rams and Raiders play football. But I digress.

The Aggies have little choice but to pursue this legally if the Seahawks continue to use their trademarked phrase without gaining a license from the university. Trademarks have to be defended when infringed, or else the owner can lose them and they pass into the public domain. Coca-Cola used to threaten lawsuits every time a restaurant called any of their non-Coca Cola products "Coke". Xerox did the same when publications used its name as a generic term for photocopying. Cellophane used to be a trademark, but has long since passed into the public domain thanks to careless maintenance of the trademark.

Not too surprisingly, the Aggies got a Texas court to issue an injunction, one which the Seahawks have roundly ignored. The 'Hawks got the case moved to federal court this week but did not get the injunction vacated, so technically the Aggies could ask to have all Seahawks merchandise with a "12th Man" mention confiscated tomorrow in Detroit. It's rather hard to imagine that a federal court will uphold this trademark, despite the Aggie's tradition; the phrase has long been used by sports announcers to describe boisterous home fans, and I doubt even longtime football fans have any idea about A&M's claim on the phrase. Still, until a federal court rules that the phrase has passed into the public domain, the trademark remains in force -- and the Seahawks technically have stolen it.

My prediction for tomorrow: Watch the Steelers -- the Pittsburgh Steelers, that is -- jump out to a 14-point lead quickly, perhaps on an opening drive and a Seattle turnover, and then ride that to a 27-14 win over the Seahawks. Shaun Alexander will get held to under a hundred yards and maybe one touchdown, while the Steelers' bigger offensive line will set up a rushing attack for its two featured backs (Bettis, Parker) that will result in almost 200 yards on the ground. Roethlisberger goes 20-28 and two TDs, while Hasselbeck goes 24-36 with a TD and two picks. Seattle's a great home team, but only average on the road, while the Steelers have thrived on travel. Detroit will be a Pittsburgh-friendly venue, and the Steelers have already knocked off one team that went unbeaten at home (Denver).

And I'd better be right. I made a bet with Hugh Hewitt last night, on the air. If the Steelers lose, on Monday you'll read a Hugh Hewitt post here at CQ rubbing salt in my wounds and probably talking about how great the Cleveland Browns really are despite not having won a championship in half a century. If I win, I'll be posting my picture of Hugh wearing my Steeler's cap. (He's not letting me on his blog if I win, which should tell you how confident he is in his selection of Seattle as the winner tomorrow!)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 4, 2006 6:18 AM

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