Texas A&M fans were proud to see one of their own -- rookie linebacker Von Miller -- head west to play for the Denver Broncos this season.
The 12th Man, however, needs to stay put in Aggieland, the university declared Monday.
A parachutist carrying a "12th man" flag dropped into Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday before the Broncos' playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The stunt seemed to be a tribute to the city's passionate fans and the impact they might have on the game. A&M, however, viewed it as a trademark violation.
Soon after, A&M Vice President for Marketing and Communications Jason Cook responded over Twitter: "FYI #Broncos, the 12th Man belongs to Texas A&M. We saw the flag today and will defend our trademark."
A&M has owned the term "12th Man" for years. It describes the student section of Kyle Field, in which students stand in the bleachers to signify their willingness to join the game. The tradition began in 1922 when student E. King Gill was called from the bleachers during an injury-plagued game against Centre College, according to Aggie lore. That happened 38 years before the Broncos were established.
Cook said his son is a "huge" Broncos fan and recorded the game on Sunday. But before they sat down to watch it, Cook began receiving text messages and seeing tweets from Aggies who noticed the flag, he said.
"That was probably one of the most egregious potential violations or infringements of our trademark in years," he said.
When the university notices an infringement, it first tries to educate the violator and the public about A&M's trademark, Cook said. His tweet was part of that process, he said.
"The 12th Man mark belongs to Texas A&M, it is a part of who we are," he said. "It is incredibly important to us and extremely valuable to our brand."
The Broncos gave no public response to the complaint Monday. The team's media relations department didn't return a message from The Eagle seeking comment.
Cook said A&M will write a cease and desist letter if the Broncos continue to infringe.
His statement Sunday night caused a minor stir on Twitter, sports blogs and online fan forums. Some bloggers and Broncos fans said that 12th man is a generic term used to describe a rowdy football crowd; others wondered whether A&M should focus on more important matters.
Cook disagrees. He said that A&M uses the 12th Man as a way to market the university. The tradition is something that sets the school apart, he said.
"That mark is our intellectual property and we have been using it on our campus since 1922," he said. "These other teams do not have the 12th Man that is embodied by students who stand and yell their hearts out for a football game in the fall."
Allowing the use of the phrase would risk making it a generic term, like Kleenex for facial tissues or Xerox for copy machines, he said.
Cook acknowledged that the university hasn't defended the phrase as well as it should in the past, but he said it has increased its efforts in recent years.
In 2006, the university sued the Seattle Seahawks for using the term. The case was settled out of court, and now A&M allows the team to license the phrase for an undisclosed fee.
"That allows them limited use of the mark within their geographic region, and whenever they do use it, they have to attribute us as the owner of the mark," Cook said.