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Making an Impact: The 12th Man

April 08, 2014
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

Check out the latest in our feature series, "Making an Impact".

Each week we'll look at a moment, personality, organization or tradition that makes Texas A&M Athletics and those support it and compete for it so special.


The story of the beginning of Texas A&M's
national recognition as "The Home of the 12th Man"

by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine

By Dana Bible’s standards, the 1921 team was easily the worst of the first four teams that he coached at Texas A&M. Beginning with his first game as head coach at A&M in 1917 and concluding with the next to last game of the 1920 season, Bible’s A&M teams went 25 consecutive games without surrendering a point.

Nothing at all. During that span, the Aggies went 24-0-1 and outscored opponents 771-0. Prison cells didn’t contain like the A&M defense.

The 1921 Aggies, on the other hand, lost early in the season and finished the year by tying Rice and Texas for a final regular-season record of 5-1-2. During the course of the eight-game regular season, A&M also had surrendered 43 points—40 more than A&M had allowed in Bible’s first 25 games.

Nevertheless, the Aggies claimed a third Southwest Conference crown in a span of five years and earned an invitation to the Dixie Classic in Dallas’ Fair Park, the predecessor to the Cotton Bowl. The offer to play in Dallas was extended by Joe Utay, who had played at A&M from 1905-07 and helped to organize the Lettermen’s Association in 1907.

"I’ll never forget what Coach Bible said to me. He said, ‘Boy, it looks like we may not have enough players to finish the game. You may have to go in and stand around for a while.’"

- E. King Gill

Utay then was an assistant coach at A&M under Charley Moran in 1912, while also serving as the school’s athletic director. He also played an instrumental role in A&M joining the SWC.

As the enterprising promoter of the Dixie Classic with deep ties to A&M and Moran, Utay was delighted with the matchup he arranged for Jan. 2, 1922: Bible’s Aggies vs. Centre College, coached by Charley Moran. The Danville, Ken.-based Praying Colonels were the glamour team of college football, bringing an unblemished record to Dallas after upsetting previously unbeaten Harvard.

Moran was thrilled to bring his nationally-recognized team to Texas for numerous reasons. First, it offered him a shot at vindication—a chance to shove it in the faces of A&M officials who had chosen to dismiss him after so much success. It was also a homecoming for many Centre players. When Moran took the job at Centre, his prime recruiting area had been Texas.

In stark contrast, Bible wasn’t excited regarding the additional game. The Aggies were banged up by season’s end, and he left the decision of whether to accept the invitation or not up to the players.

“(After the season) Coach told us, ‘We’ve been invited to play in a postseason game, and I’ll leave the decision up to you,” said Sam Houston Sanders, an All-SWC halfback in ’21. “I’m not going to advise you what to do, but if you choose to play, we’re going to limit the squad to as few members as we need. Remember this: You’re going to miss the Christmas holidays, and some of you will be late starting other sports.”

Despite the coach’s indifferent tone, the players leapt at the chance to face the Colonels. Eighteen players practiced and made the trip.

As the game began on Jan. 2, 1922, injuries quickly mounted for the already depleted Aggies. Fullback Harry Pinson broke his leg in the finale against Texas, and fellow fullback Floyd Buckner seriously injured his leg in the pre-Dixie Classic practices. Captain Heine Weir, who missed much of the season with a broken leg, played against Centre…until he reinjured the leg on the third play. Sanders and Bugs Morris were also injured early in the game.

As injuries mounted, Bible looked around the sidelines. He surmised that he may not have enough bodies to finish the game. Then a thought struck him. E. King Gill, one of his former players, was working in the press box as a spotter for Jinx Tucker of the Waco News-Tribune. Gill was quite an athlete, a multi-sport letterman who’d been released at the end of the regular season to pursue basketball, his favorite sport.

With Centre out to an early 7-3 lead and the Aggies in increasingly dire physical conditions, Bible called A&M head yell leader Harry “Red” Thompson to the bench. He then sent Thompson to the press box to retrieve Gill. Once Gill made it to the sidelines, Bible asked him to dress in the uniform of an injured player.

With no locker rooms at that time, Heine Weir and Gill went beneath the stands and switched clothes.

“I’ll never forget what Coach Bible said to me,” Gill recalled years later. “He said, ‘Boy, it looks like we may not have enough players to finish the game. You may have to go in and stand around for a while.’ I don’t guess A&M has ever played more inspired ball. All of our remaining players managed to survive from that point forward.”

Not only did they survive; they thrived. In the third quarter, A&M’s Puny Wilson connected with A.J. Evans on and end-around pass play to put the Aggies on top. Wilson scored later on a 5-yard run, and Ted Winn intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a score. It was enough to give the Aggies a stunning, 22-14 victory.

Gill never played. For that matter, he never made much ado about his willingness to play. He had, after all, been on the team prior to the end of the regular season. But Thompson, the yell leader, was so excited about the victory and so impressed by Gill’s willingness to answer the Aggies’ call that he scheduled a yell practice on the steps of the YMCA as soon as the team and students returned to campus.

At that yell practice, Thompson first used the words, “12th Man” in reference to Gill. Ever since, Texas A&M has been known nationally as “the home of the 12th Man.” From one generation to the next—for more than nine decades—students at A&M have stood throughout games as a symbol of their willingness to follow Gill’s lead and answer the Aggies’ call, if necessary.

Follow the 12th Man Foundation on Twitter @12thManFndtn and Rusty Burson @12thManRusty

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