Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the event that led to Texas A&M’s storied 12th Man tradition. John A. Adams Jr., historian and author of several A&M-related books, has a new book chronicling the origins of one of A&M’s most identifiable trademarks.
Adams’ book, “Standing Ready: The Golden Era of Texas Aggie Football and the Beginning of the 12th Man Tradition,” was released on Dec. 31 and published through the Texas A&M University Press.
The book recounts the events and dynamics surrounding the 1922 Dixie Classic in Dallas between Texas A&M and Centre College. The Aggies had no more backup players available due to injuries, and E. King Gill was called down from the press box onto the field and stood ready if needed. Although Gill never entered the game, his actions led to the formation of the 12th Man tradition, including A&M students standing for the entire length of home football games.
“Out of this game, which was one of the hallmark games, will be one of the hallmark traditions of Texas A&M — the 12th Man — that will evolve over time and, of course, really stand the test of time,” Adams said. “It became one of the real bases of A&M’s traditions.”
In the book, Adams details how Gill was a sophomore reserve on the football team, but had opted out of finishing the season in late fall — with approval of the coaches — to begin preparing for the upcoming basketball season in January.
Adams writes that Gill was not planning to attend the Dixie Classic, but hitchhiked to Dallas on New Year’s Eve and snuck into the stadium with the football team since he lacked the $3 needed for a game ticket.
While on the sidelines with the team, Gill was asked to serve as a spotter for Waco sportswriter Jinx Tucker in the press box. After A&M had sustained a number of injuries in the first half, Adams writes that A&M coach Dana X. Bible waved at Gill in the press box to come down to the field and stand ready in the second half.
“That is the most iconic moment in A&M history as far as football history,” Adams said. “The last 11 guys they had left who could play held them. Everything about this is kind of incredible.”
The 1922 Dixie Classic was one of the earliest bowl games in college football history and the precursor to the Cotton Bowl. Adams notes in the book how Centre College had become one of the nation’s top teams under former A&M coach Charley Moran. The Praying Colonels came into the game 10-0 and had outscored opponents 320-6. A&M’s 22-14 upset win was nationwide sports news for the next week, Adams said.
Gill recounted the event in a speech at the 1964 campus Muster. Audio from the speech was uncovered in 2019. Gill was introduced by A&M President James Earl Rudder, who called Gill “the original 12th Man.”
“I’ve never thought that the 12th Man really belonged to a personality,” Gill said in the speech. “It belongs to the A&M student body. And every one of you can be a 12th Man. You stand up, stand up for what’s right and be ready to serve.”
Adams notes in the book that the story of Gill and the 12th Man was first publicized nationwide during a radio segment prior to A&M’s victory over Tulane in the 1940 Sugar Bowl, which crowned the Aggies as the 1939 national champions. Gill confirmed that in his Muster speech in 1964.
Adams said he compiled information and conducted interviews about the 12th Man tradition dating back to the 1970s. He spent the past six years using that information to compose the book, which included newspaper clippings, excerpts from books, and interviews Adams conducted with a number of key people, including several with Gill, who died in 1974.
The first two chapters of the book set the scene of how A&M football started in 1894 and grew as a program into the 1920s. Other chapters detail the events leading up to the 1922 Dixie Classic and the classic gridiron match itself.
The 12th Man tradition at A&M has evolved over the years. Jackie Sherrill created the 12th Man kickoff team in 1982, taking a group of walk-ons and forming one of the nation’s top kickoff coverage units. Eventually, the 12th Man would be a title given to one walk-on player, who usually plays on special teams and is the only player that wears No. 12.
A statue of Gill was funded by A&M’s Class of 1980 and stood outside the north end zone of Kyle Field until 2014, when a new and larger statue was unveiled. The original was moved next to Rudder Fountain.
“It’s very iconic and unique,” Adams said of the 12th Man tradition. “A&M stands out because of that. I used to be in the press box and I’d see sportswriters their first time here, or TV ‘casters. They didn’t understand it. When they got into Kyle Field and they were looking across the stadium at the student body, and everybody’s standing and the 12th Man and the yell leaders, their introduction was about nothing but the 12th Man.”
Adams said there are still questions left unanswered and some people he wish he could have interviewed, including Bible, who died in 1980. Adams said he would like to know what was said between Bible and others at halftime when injuries had added up for A&M. In the book’s acknowledgements, Adams writes he would’ve liked to know how close Bible was to sending Gill into the game.
Still, Adams said the book gives a full picture about how the 12th Man tradition came to be.
“This really happened and, unfortunately, he did not score a touchdown to win the game, which makes it that much more fascinating,” Adams said. “Maybe people will get a feel for the period of time, the golden era of football, and what this meant for the A&M program.”