Spring in Oklahoma means severe weather. It’s ground zero for Tornado Alley. That means in April and May, normal life is often interrupted by warnings, sirens and an angry sky.
Earlier this year, a dangerous storm near El Reno, OK, caused a traffic stop on I-40. There was no imminent danger, just a drive delay. Motorists waited for the all-clear. John Slate got out of his pickup and perched on his tailgate to take a snack break.
A news crew approached him for an interview. He signed off with what has become a universal and unofficial hand sign in the Sooner State.
Last spring, as traffic was stopped because of a dangerous storm near El Reno, Okla., a motorist was filmed by a news crew while he sat on the tailgate of his pickup. John Slate saw he was on camera and did what came naturally.
"Nothing goes better together in Oklahoma than tornadoes, pork rinds and Horns Down," he later told ESPN.com. "It's an Oklahoma thing. It's something that brings us together. Whether you're a Sooner or a Cowpoke, we can all agree that Texas sucks. It's a universal sign of love for Okies."
This being Red River Rivalry Week, expect a Horns Down outbreak. The flipping of Hook ‘Em, the University of Texas’ signature hand signal, will occur with impunity at the State Fair. Inside the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma players who celebrate with a Horns Down could cost their team 15 yards.
Sooners fans will likely consider that a small price to pay and will scream and holler that the Big 12 Conference zebras are carrying water for the Longhorn snowflakes who control the league’s deep state.
Eddie Radosevich, whose sense of humor is drier than the Dust Bowl, is a staff writer/videographer for SoonerScoop on the Rivals Network and a co-host on the The Franchise Sports morning show that airs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. He started the web site hornsupforpeace.org and campaigns on Twitter with #HornsUpForPeace.
“I’m just trying to point out how ridiculous and hilarious it is,” Radosevich said in a telephone interview. “I hate to be a ‘get off my lawn’ guy. There are so many people who act like they’re offended by Horns Down, it’s a jab at those people. Some OU fans like the website and they get the joke.
“The Big 12 drew attention to it by having their officials penalize it. In the social media world, the vocal minority is the largest. It creates an echo chamber. Maybe the back and forth adds a bit more bad blood in the rivalry and that’s great for college football.”
Hand signals were and are a staple of many Southwest Conference schools. Oklahoma doesn’t have an official hand signal other than when the Sooners play Texas and the raised middle finger on one hand combined with a Horns Down with the other is the preferred non-verbal communication.
Before UT and OU met in the Big 12 Championship game last December, commissioner Bob Bowlsby was asked about Horns Down on The Dan Patrick Show. Bowlsby called it a “tempest in a teapot.”
If so, the Big 12 has self-brewed this controversy. When LSU played Texas earlier this season, the Southeastern Conference officiating crew either missed or didn’t care about this egregious celebration.
Hook ‘Em - a fist with index and pinky fingers extended - originated in the 1950s and immediately became a hit with Orange Bloods. According to ESPN.com, the front page of Texas' student newspaper, the Daily Texan, featured a Baylor fan doing the Horns Down in 1963.
For years since then, the gesture police (football officials) treated Horns Down like jaywalking, but nothing makes a better story than a good dose of irony. The NCAA’s crackdown on excessive player celebrations came thanks to one of the Longhorns’ most embarrassing losses.
No. 4 Miami curb stomped No. 3 Texas, 46-3, in the 1990 Cotton Bowl. The Hurricanes dominated every facet of the game, including 15 penalties for 202 yards for excessive … everything. Soon after, the NCAA created the so-called “Miami Rule” that allowed the zebras to flag players for “excessive celebration, or "behavior demeaning to the image of college football."
The decision to flag a player for the emotion of celebrating is a judgment call. Example: A Kansas State player in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl scored a touchdown, gave a military salute to the fans and earned a 15-yard penalty. That yardage made the Wildcats’ 2-point try to tie the game tougher and it failed.
In the NCAA Rulebook it’s Rule 9-2-1: "No player, substitute, coach or other person subject to the rules shall use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, to game officials or to the image of the game."
In the 2000 Cotton Bowl, Arkansas posted its first bowl victory since 1985 with a 27-6 thrashing of the Longhorns (dear reader, are you sensing a trend?). After the game, Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt was photographed gleefully Horns Downing with both hands. UT coach Mack Brown expressed his displeasure.
Brown also could be the catalyst for the latest Horns Down crack down by Big 12 officials. In 2012, Longhorns receiver Mike Davis did former Dallas Cowboys receiver Butch Johnson proud. Davis celebrated a touchdown by mimicking holstering a pair of six-shooters. Guns Up is the Red Raiders’ hand signal and the officials decided Davis was doing Guns Down.
At his Monday news conference after the trip to Lubbock, Brown was asked about the Davis penalty and his answer sounded like a vintage whine to the other fan bases in the conference.
"That's something we ought to talk about as a league,” Brown said. “The Horns Down are disrespectful for players on the field.”
Tempest in a teapot? More like a mountain out of a mole hill. If you’re not an Orange Blood, you’re convinced that Texas runs the conference office. (If so, Oklahoma fans take particular satisfaction that, more often than not, the Big 12 commissioner is handing the championship trophy to the Sooners.)
"Did we resolve it?" Bowlsby said, repeating a question about Horns Down penalties at Big 12 media days. "I don't know if it's clear to everybody or not. Our officials are going to enforce anything that they consider to be an unsportsmanlike act that's directed at another player.
"That was our stance last year and continues to be our stance."
Big 12 Coordinator of Officials Greg Burks also explained the officiating thinking.
“It’s like any unsportsmanlike act,” he said. “If somebody scores quickly, turns to their cheering section, and it’s quick and they move on, we’re not going to do anything with that. If it’s to a bench or to another player, and it’s prolonged, it would be an unsportsmanlike act.
“Like any play, there is a degree, who it’s directed at, if they do it in their bench area, we’re not going to look at it. It would be like any other celebration foul, so it has to be like any other foul we have. Does it rise to the level we need to deal with that?
“It’s a hot topic. I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it’s like any touchdown celebration.”
What should anger Texas fans is that if an opposing player gets flagged for Horns Down, it’s likely they’ve scored a touchdown. West Virginia beat the Longhorns in Austin last season. Mountaineers wide receiver David Sills V was flagged for Horns Down after a TD reception and quarterback Will Grier was flashing it as he ran in the winning two-point conversion in overtime. (By the way, both WVU Horns Down gestures were brief, which calls into question Burks’ “quick and move on” quote.)
“At the end of the day, it’s not that big a deal,” Texas center Zach Shackleford said. “They take our logo and flip it upside down. It does motivate us. If they get a penalty, it costs them 15 yards. To each his own.”
“UT’s horns up is polarizing around the country,” Texas Tech offensive lineman Travis Bruffy said. “I understand their discomfort with people doing horns down. When you play Texas, it brings out your best effort, it’s a big deal. Playing them is like playing history. There are a lot of emotions running high. If there was a game to do something like horns down, it’s that one.”
His teammate, linebacker Jordyn Brooks, was asked about an opponent disrespecting Texas Tech’s hand signal.
“Guns down? Yeah, that’s a slap in the face,” he said. “And, it would mean somebody on the team we’re playing did something good.”
University of Memphis professor Cody Havard, Ph.D., studies fan behavior. He’s also a UT grad. He has researched team rivalries by polling college fans on who they consider their school’s biggest rival. "Texas has 11 different teams identifying them as a rival, by far the most in the country,” he said.
The Athletic’s Faux Pelini column (a made-up weekly post based on former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s ravings) was asked recently when it’s OK to flash the Horns Down.
“Why are you handing Texas such power over you, anyway? If you happen to beat Texas, enjoy your win, not the Texas loss. Throwing a Horns Down is like chanting “overrated” at the end of a big upset victory. … I get it, Texas can be annoying sometimes. … And I know Matthew McConaughey’s unavoidable car ads are Texas’ fault somehow.”
Texas-Oklahoma is one of the great rivalry games in college football. For Sooners’ fans, Horns Down is all right, all right, all right.