Cooper Neill/Associated Press
Sports can create a controversy out of nothing. Heading into a showdown between Oklahoma and Texas, the attention should be on the highest-profile matchup and biggest rivalry in the Big 12.
Instead, once again, we’re talking about two fingers and the direction they point relative to the sky.
Earlier in the week, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said his players will not throw the “Horns Down” symbol during the clash with Texas, per Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. It’s the same decision he announced prior to the 2018 Big 12 title game.
Riley is smart for doing it.
Not because that’s a “classy” move by the third-year boss. Not because Texas’ famous gesture deserves the utmost respect. Not because it might hurt somebody’s feelings.
Only because it saves the Sooners from giving an excellent opponent 15 yards.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Mike Fuentes/Associated Press
Greg Burks, the conference’s coordinator of football officials, addressed the topic at Big 12 media days in July. Dean Straka of the Dallas Morning News notes Burks said intent―where and at whom the gesture is directed―will determine whether an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is called.
“If somebody scores real quickly, turns to their cheering section, and it’s real quick and moves on, we’ll probably not react like that,” Burks said. “If they happened to turn to the other crowd or the other bench or it’s prolonged toward another player, it will be treated like any other unsportsmanlike act.”
While allowing some degree of subjectivity is fair, it’s still open to the officials’ interpretation. As with literally anything else, coaches should do everything in their power to avoid having their players at the mercy of a judgment call.
That’s just smart football.
Judgment calls no longer apply when the final whistle sounds, though.
After all, the decree didn’t stop Oklahoma from breaking out the Horns Down after defeating Texas in Arlington last December. Nobody―not even on Twitter, the ugliest place in the known universe―verbalized a problem with Tre Brown…
…or Brayden Willis.
Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press
Texas fans and players would be quick to disagree, of course.
“We’ve been disrespected for as long as that hand signal has been around,” Tom Herman said before last season’s Big 12 Championship Game, per Jeff Howe of 247Sports. Sam Ehlinger and former receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey also called it disrespectful after losing to West Virginia earlier that same year. So did then-Texas coach Mack Brown in 2012.
That doesn’t mean it’s a big deal, though.
“If you can’t throw the Horns Down, what can you do?” former Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho said, according to ESPN’s David Wilson. “It’s the most polite disrespect that you can do in the game of football. It’s not a kick in the nuts.”
There is nothing legitimately harmful about Ha, orange team, we have done a good thing against you. Is anyone―a UT fan, coach or player―feeling the residual effects from the initial reaction of Oh, that was something I did not like.
This non-troversy is all about feelings of loyalty to a school―not a crime or something even remotely serious.
If you search for instances of penalties after a player mocked the Florida Gators’ chomp, you find two. There are none for turning Miami’s “U” upside down or USC’s two-finger “victory” sign. West Virginia’s David Sills V was flagged for his Horns Down in 2018. Former Texas receiver Mike Davis caught an eye-rolling flag for pretending to holster his guns against Texas Tech in 2012.
That’s a very short list in an extensive history of players and coaches mocking the opposition. Take, for example, the 2017 Texas Bowl between Texas and Missouri.
Herman, along with Ehlinger and many other players, mocked the touchdown celebration of former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. That, directed at an individual player, is enormously more disrespectful than a silly Horns Down gesture.
Still waiting on this apology, Tom. Or maybe, like Horns Down, it’s not actually that serious and can be laughed off.
Even the founder of the gesture, H.K. Pitts, is indifferent toward the celebration being used against Texas.
If the Longhorns win, nearly every player on the field will unleash a collective flurry of Hook ’em Horns. Good! They should. It is the symbol that has defined the program since 1955. And if they lose, Oklahoma has earned the right to imitate it.
Besides, if the Sooners broke out the mockery during the game and ended up losing, who looks foolish now? Not Texas! We could all revel in that.
Stop taking this to heart. It’s an unoffensive gesture that has no effect beyond It hurt my feelings at this fleeting moment.
Hook ’em Horns is fine.
So is Horns Down.
No matter which direction your pinkie and index fingers are pointed, celebrate how you’d like and enjoy the game. Because, after all, it’s only that―and this one should be outstanding.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.