At West Point, the Corps of Cadets at football games represents more than just fans in the stands, they are The 12th Man.
As most football leagues only allow a maximum of 11 players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team’s fans as the 12th man indicates that they have a potentially helpful and significant role in the game.
This tradition dates back to the early 1900’s with Texas A&M game in 1922. Coach Bible, afraid he might not have enough players, brought former football player E. King Gill down from the press box and suited him up just in case. The spirit of the 12th man standing ready to help the team was soon adopted by the student section and over time the entire student section was dubbed “The 12th Man.”
At West Point, the 12th man collectively refers to the Corps of Cadets in the stands, who, through their passionate cheers and noisemaking, often make it difficult for the opposing team to hear their offensive calls. Typically, the conductor of the pep band paints his face with the number “12” in a combat pattern as it is the pep band that often rallies the corps behind the team.