Unsportsmanlike decision?: Should throwing the ‘Horns Down’ be a 15-yard penalty?

Two West Virginia players were flagged for the upside-down 'Hook 'em' hand gesture, but the league has no official policy

Posted November 6th, 2018

Story highlights
  • “I guess that’s what comes with it when you’re a top-tier program and people don’t like you.”
  • Mack Brown brought this up as a possible penalty back in 2012.
  • WR Devin Duvernay: “At the end of the day, win and we don’t have to deal with that.”

If you root for Texas, hold up one index finger and a pinkie to show school pride. Get your Horns up.

The late Harley Clark, a UT cheerleader credited with first holding up that now-famous hand sign during a game in 1955, probably never dreamed of pointing it upside-down. But for decades now, the “Horns Down” is still the non-verbal equivalent of fightin’ words.

It’s usually accompanied by a Tommy-Gun array of verbal taunts, though. And if you’re doing it right, it’s always a double-fisted whammy.


PHOTO GALLERY: From coaches to band members: ‘horns down’ through the years

Two calls last Saturday renewed an old debate: Should the Horns Down be a 15-yard penalty?

There is no official Big 12 policy on calling unsportsmanlike fouls on players for putting their Horns Down. A Big 12 spokesman said the call is “the officials’ discretion and judgement.” Texas administrators have long believed it should be a penalty for taunting, because at the core, that’s what it is.

The practice of flashing the “Horns Down” sign is hardly new. Here is former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury — now the Red Raiders’ head coach — doing it after the Red Raiders beat the Longhorns in 2002. {Photo by Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

The Longhorns (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) will see plenty of Horns Down in the stands this weekend in Lubbock prior to facing the Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-4, 3-3). Maybe on the field, too.

“We don’t disrespect any other schools by throwing the signs down or anything like that,” UT receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey said. “It bothers us a lot because we take pride in what we do and that logo. For schools to disrespect us for no reason, I don’t know. I really pisses me off and a lot of guys off. I guess that’s what comes with it when you’re a top-tier program and people don’t like you.”

Two West Virginia players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing their Horns Down. David Sills V did it after his 60-yard touchdown catch. Will Grier did it after scoring the game-winning, two-point conversion in the Mountaineers’ 42-41 victory.

After the game, the Mountaineers tried to plant a West Virginia state flag at midfield, prompting several UT players to start pushing and shoving the visitors off the midfield logo.

“It’s disrespectful,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “I just took it as that shouldn’t be going on, but at the end of the day, they beat us. Why try to fight it now?”

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, tongue planted in his cheek, said he checked with officials before the game about whether the Horns Down would get flagged. “I guess there was miscommunication,” he said.

This is not a new issue. “The Horns Down is disrespectful,” former Texas coach Mack Brown said in 2012. “We ought to talk about that as a league.”

Oklahoma fans are Horns Down perfectionists, followed closely by Texas Tech’s fan base. Texas A&M fans may still practice at home, but they haven’t used it in a game since 2011.

Tosha Jacobson, holding her then-7-month-old daughter Dakota Raynae Jacobson, gets in a shouting match with an Oklahoma fan taunting them with a Horns Down in Dallas the night before the 2007 Texas-OU game. [Photo by Jay Janner/American-Statesman]

“I guess seeing fans do it is one thing,” UT receiver Collin Johnson said. “When you play OU, I expect those fans to do that. But when you kind of see the players do it, it bothers you a little bit because of the sense of pride you have with the program and stuff.”

Johnson said it boils down to each player’s maturity and handling one’s business on the field.

“People are going to put the Horns up and the Horns down,” Johnson said, “and at the end of the day, all we can do is just go to work and show people that Horns go up.”

Nobody did it with more panache than former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. The Razorbacks beat the Longhorns in the 2000 Cotton Bowl, and TV cameras caught Nutt running wild with the Horns Down afterward.

“I’m really good friends with Mack Brown right now, and we went to Baghdad together,” Nutt told the American-Statesman in May. “He was upset at me about the ‘Hook ’em, Horns’ sign down, and I apologize 100 percent.”

Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt gives the horns down sign after Texas’ loss to Arkansas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl. Fox Television

Rare is the Big 12 official who will actually throw that flag, though.

It did happen last year when Texas Tech’s T.J. Vasher caught a touchdown pass and threw the Horns Down at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The official ran up behind Vasher, who was facing UT’s north end zone, and called the penalty.

“I remember every single team/player that disrespects the rich tradition of the University of Texas by putting the Horns down,” UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger tweeted after the WVU game. “Do not think it will be forgotten in the future.”

Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown flashes the Horns Down as takes the field for this year’s Texas-OU game in October. [Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman]
Ehlinger later deleted that tweet and said he deleted the Twitter app from his phone altogether.

“I think growing up a Longhorn fan, you see it a lot from other people who I guess don’t really have their own original hand signs,” Ehlinger said Tuesday. “It’s just disrespectful, I guess.”

Ehlinger said usually the only ones who throw the Horns Down are the ones who’ve beaten you.

“But it’s like anything,” he said, “when someone kind of rubs something in your face the wrong way, it’s going to irritate you and it’s going to make you work a little bit harder moving forward to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.”

Receiver Devin Duvernay said the post-game scene against West Virginia got him worked up. “It’s frustrating,” he said, “but at the end of the day, win and we don’t have to deal with that.”

Again, as Duvernay said, win and the Horns don’t have to deal with any of it.

“All I care about is winning the game,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day, we know people are going to throw the Horns Down and all the other stuff. But our main focus is winning the game.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email