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Walking the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame: The 12th Man

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In this rather lighthearted installment of the “Walking the Wall of Fame” series, we’re taking a look at the most unusual entry on our stadium’s halls. On a wall that bears the names of innumerable great players and coaches, one entry stands out: The 12th Man. They’re different from the rest of the Wall. Perhaps less describable? Certainly less definable. Still, we must ask the question.

Who Is The 12th Man?

There’s a simple answer, but we’re going to go the long way around. Jim Kelly played with him, Elbert Dubenion caught touchdowns in front of him, Bruce Smith buried quarterbacks for him, and when Josh Allen rolls into the end zone, The 12th Man is the one he celebrates with. Ten thousand players across one hundred years of NFL history have credited him for everything from a single win to the very grit and determination they put on the field each Sunday. But who is The 12th Man? The answer, of course, is you.

But I, too, am The 12th Man. So is your neighbor. As are the rest of the people who fill the stands or watch from home. The 12th Man isn’t a person at all, but a community. The Bills Mafia represents The 12th Man in Buffalo, and each and every one of us claim partial ownership over that honor.

Honoring Us All

In December of 1992, amidst a handful of Super Bowl appearances, the Bills wanted to honor their faithful public. They felt the best way to do this was to formally induct the fanbase onto the Bills Wall of Fame, referring to them as The 12th Man and enshrining them forever. They were the seventh name to go up on The Wall. The Buffalo Bills are just one of a handful of teams who chose to formally honor their fans like this, as the most prominent use of the phrase is found in Seattle. The Seahawks have referred to their fans as “The 12s” for about 50 years, and most iconography with the number is generally dedicated to them.

Though the phrase is too varied in its use to have any one true copyright claims, Texas A&M do own one such claim. The franchise has a licensing agreement with them to use the term freely, both on merchandise and otherwise.

Walking the Wall of Fame

Did you enjoy this read? Check out more of the “Walking the Wall of Fame” series below, with pieces about the actual players, coaches, and staff who made this team’s past.

O.J. Simpson (1980)Jack Kemp (1984)Patrick J. McGroder (1985)Tom Sestak (1987)Billy Shaw (1988)
Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (1989)The 12th Man (1992)Elbert Dubenion (1993)Mike Stratton (1994)Joe Ferguson (1995)
Marv Levy (1996)Joe DeLamielleure (1997)Robert James (1998)Edward Abramoski (1999)Bob Kalsu (2000)
George Saimes (2000)Jim Kelly (2001)Fred Smerlas (2001)Kent Hull (2002)Darryl Talley (2003)
Jim Ritcher (2004)Thurman Thomas (2005)Andre Reed (2006)Steve Tasker (2007)Bruce Smith (2008)
Booker Edgerson (2010)Phil Hansen (2011)Bill Polian (2012)Van Miller (2014)Lou Saban (2015)
Cookie Gilchrist (2017)Reserved For
Future Legends
Future WoFers:
AFL/Early NFL
Future WoFers:
The Golden Era
Future WoFers:
The Drought
Navigate the Wall of Fame here!

One of the owners The Sports Wave, and a Journalist at Buffalo Fanatics, I'm an English immigrant living in Canada. A huge Buffalo Bills fan, I also love my Boston Celtics, Toronto Blue Jays, and Queens Park Rangers.

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