"Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports"
A year ago the plans for the new Kyle Field were released and included in those plans were details to leave 12 seats empty for the 12 students killed in the ’99 Bonfire collapse. This was a touching tribute that was received warmly by many in the Aggie family. I myself having been a part of the ’99 Bonfire my freshman year at A&M loved the idea and thought it was such a beautiful way to include the spirit of those 12 students in the renovation of Kyle. Over the past year these 12 seats were reiterated by both the Chancellor’s office as well as local media to represent the original plans. However, in recent weeks there has been some backtracking by the Chancellor’s office in a recently issued statement by Chancellor John Sharp…
"The planned 12th Man seats which will be left open in the second deck of the east stands of redeveloped Kyle Field are a living and visible tribute to the spirit of all members of the 12th Man who have come before at Texas A&M. It is a symbol of the respect all students and former students have for the hard work and sacrifice that went in to making this land grant Universitywhat it is today – one of the best in the country. Kyle Field is a very special place for all Aggies and we believe this section is a very special tribute to one of our most honored traditions, the 12th Man. While some have reported this is solely related to the bonfire tragedy, that is inaccurate."
In my opinion the 12 empty seats should be for the 12 students who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the ’99 Bonfire collapse… END OF STORY. The idea of those 12 empty seats representing the 12th Man is asinine and an embarrassingly glaring contradiction. Leaving 12 seats empty and reserved for the spirit of those 12 students who died building one of our most endearing traditions would be such an amazing tribute. Most people who come to the football games each year never even go to the Bonfire memorial, some never even drive by it, and many fans from visiting teams don’t even know it’s there.
The biggest issue for me is that those 12 empty seats were initially intended for the 12 students who were killed and those intentions were solidified publicly for almost a year. However, the fact that the sudden surge of national attention recently toward Seattle’s contractual use of the 12th Man coupled with an atrocious facebook post by the former assistant athletic director at TCU regarding the ’99 Bonfire tragedy created in some way a need in the Chancellor’s office to reevaluate the 12 empty seats as an opportunity to reinforce branding is beyond appalling! This example of public backtracking is an embarrassment and it trivializes the sincerity of one of the most heart wrenching moments in Aggie history.
If you want to memorialize the spirit of the 12th Man and the burning desire that resides in every Aggie then get rid of the 12 empty seats and barricade off an eternal flame of some kind. However, if there are going to be 12 empty seats at the new Kyle Field then there is only one thing that those 12 empty seats will ever represent to me and that one thing is exactly what they were originally intended for… The 12 students who died building one of our most treasured traditions, the Aggie Bonfire which will forever be THE most visible representation of the spirit of Aggieland and the burning desire of the 12th Man.
The Chancellor’s office can make whatever claims they want, but one office versus the entire Aggie community is a battle the Chancellor’s office will never win. If they do follow through with this “12 empty seats for the 12th Man” idea, I hope that the internet and social media are flooded with Aggie refusals, and I hope that the students seated around those 12 seats hold up signs and wear t-shirts and body paint letting everyone on national television know just what those 12 seats truly mean to the 12th Man and the Aggie family.
I wish the Chancellor’s office had just stuck with what they originally planned. Most everyone at the time was pleased with the plans for the sentimental tribute. However now that there has been backtracking and public statements trivializing the idea of using these 12 seats in order to boost branding, it’s ruined any attempt at sentiment. It’s turned into a disaster now. Friends and family of those who died and those of us who were actually there were originally touched by the plans, but now that it’s turned into an internet debate it has ruined it for many of us. People are back to making statements such as ‘the Bonfire was an embarrassment’ and bringing up opinions like that of the former AAD at TCU which is exceedingly painful. It’s turned into an exploitation of the memories of the 12 Aggies who were killed, and that’s a shame because it could have been something special.