By Michael LeCompte
As Super Bowl XLIX approaches nearly every aspect of the Seahawks and Patriots matchup has been compared. The teams, coaches, players, fans, and cities have been analyzed and over-analyzed. In keeping with the pregame analysis of the absurd here’s a look at two essential elements of Patriot and Seahawk fandom, the End Zone Militia and the 12th Man.
While neither group is an official mascot, that distinction is reserved for Pat the Patriot and Blitz the Seahawk, each rabidly supports their team. The militia is a group dedicated to both history and football, and the 12’s are fiercely loyal to Seattle and provide a definite home field advantage.
The End Zone Militia
Every NFL team and stadium has its own traditions and whether you’re a Patriots fan or not you have to admit that the line of men dressed in Colonial era garb, holding rifles and lining the back of the end zones is pretty cool.
The End Zone Militia started in 1996 and consists of about forty members for each Patriots home game, with about twenty men behind each end zone.
After every Patriots touchdown and successful extra point a Captain steps in front of the militia, raises his sword and yells, “MAKE READY. PRESENT. FIRE.” Then the sound of musket fire thunders through Gillette stadium.
To be a member of the militia one must be a Revolutionary War re-enactor in good standing with a re-enactor’s club or organization for at least three years. Members do not get paid and must buy their own costumes and powder muskets, which may run upwards of $3,000, depending on the desired level of authenticity. Militia members must also abstain from alcohol before and during games.
Although End Zone Militia members get free tickets to the game and get to be part of the sideline festivities, their group actually has no affiliation with the New England Patriots and they have not been entirely free of controversy throughout their history.
In 2003 Patriots kicker Adam Viniateri missed an extra point attempt due to lingering musket smoke after a touchdown and Chad Ochocinco once claimed that after he scored against the Patriots he would grab a musket and fire it. Fortunately by the time he made it into the end zone the Patriots were blowing out his Bengals and he chose not to celebrate.
The 12th Man
Of course the 12th Man is not on the field like the End Zone Militia, but is rather 68,000 strong throughout the stadium and also encompasses every Seahawk fan everywhere. As Seattle head coach Pete Carroll says, “the 12th man has an unparalleled impact on game day.”
That impact is heard, not only when Seattle scores, but throughout the game and it is felt at key moments when the 12’s quite literally make the earth move.
Seattle retired the number 12 in 1984 in honor of their fans and someone with connections to the team or region raises the 12th man flag before each game.
Like the End Zone Militia, the 12th Man has also been embroiled in a certain amount of controversy.
Texas A&M uses the term “12th Man” to refer to its entire student body, past and present. The University traces its ownership of the term back to 1922 when the football team was so depleted by injury that they called a student, E. King Gill, down from the stands to suit up. Gill never made it onto the field that day, but the legend was born.
In 2006 Texas A&M sued the Seahawks over ownership of the 12th Man. Eventually Seattle acknowledged the University’s ownership of the trademarked phrase and the two sides reached an agreement where Seattle could use the term under license.
Seattle paid Texas A&M a $100,000 lump sum and must pay $5,000 annually until 2016 when the deal can be renegotiated. To ensure that its trademark is being respected Texas A&M sends “undercover” fans to Seahawks games once a year.
The End Zone Militia and the 12th Man, two unique, yet passionate groups of fans. While there is a waiting list to join the militia, the 12’s are not limited to Century Link field and seem to be growing rather exponentially.
Everything else about the Patriots and Seahawks has been broken down and ranked favorably in one direction or the other, so here’s yet another prediction: as we saw last year the 12’s will travel.
This is the sixth Super Bowl appearance this century for the Patriots, it’s what their fans expect this time of year, while success is still semi-new and certainly still exciting for Seattle’s long suffering, yet loyal fan base.
When Super Bowl XLIX kicks off on Sunday, University of Phoenix stadium may become the new “Home of the 12th Man” a one game home away from home for the Seahawks.