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The Politics of Horns Down

Up? Down? Left? Right? A-B, A-B select start? We assembled an all-star cast to parse the Konami Code of when it is or isn’t okay to mess with Texas.

Texas Longhorns v Oklahoma Sooners Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns have been playing football for approximately 126 years. And in all that time, one thing has been the program’s true scourge. An image that haunts it. Keeps it up at night. The very thought can trigger shortened breaths. Sometimes, a little pee comes out.

It isn’t Barry Switzer.

Or pork barbecue.

Not the sight of Randall Hill coming out of the Cotton Bowl tunnel with his six-shooters drawn.

Or even the thought of Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury.

No, it’s just the simplest thing. A clenched fist, with the index and pinky fingers extended perpendicular to the ground. The “Horns Down” symbol.

You see, it hurts their feelings over there in Texas. Somethin’ fierce. And enough is enough! Gosh darn it, they don’t have to take this anymore! And the Big 12 has their back! It’s serious now — an honest-to-goodness penalty in conference play.

However, Saturday’s match-up isn’t a Big 12 game. And LSU fans will be eager to dive right into one of college football’s greatest fads. However, in the interest of helping people enjoy themselves responsibly, we have assembled an all-star squad of experts to help provide those of you making the trip to Austin with some situational awareness of just when you may or may not, give the Horns Down symbol.

Our panel of experts include Allen Kenney of Blatant Homerism, noted Oklahoman and Horns Down enthusiast Bunkie Perkins, our friends over at Good Bull Hunting, Drew Dunlevie of Barking Carnival and Banner Society managing editor Jason Kirk.

Will we be arrested for giving the Horns Down symbol in Darrel K. Royal Stadium?

You might be apprehended but not by law enforcement. Really depends on context - who you are around, how much they have had to drink, how Texas is doing, how you’ve behaved ahead of that, result of the game, etc. I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know that Texas fans are generally a very welcoming and hospitable bunch. Until they aren’t. But seriously, they’ll give you beers and brisket and talk football with you before and after but if you act like a clown, they’ll send you to the circus. —Drew

Almost certainly not. Ever since they started selling alcohol at Texas games, the crowd has been so preoccupied with drinking Zimas that it’s hard to imagine anyone would notice. —Allen Kenney

Like everyone else in DKR, you have the right to remain silent. —Jason Kirk

Unlikely. Austin and Campus PD resources will be stretched thin enforcing various e-scooter regulations, as well as monitoring LSU tailgates to ensure they comply with the strict food truck policies of the City of Austin (e.g., “must maintain a minimum stock of 10 pounds of one of the following at all times: fresh cilantro, Sriracha sauce, cauliflower rice). —Rush Roberts, GBH

No, Donny. These people are cowards. —Lucas Jackson, GBH

How about the greater Austin area?

Steer clear of Williamson County. —Rush

Same as above with the qualifier that Austin is now “Austin.” It’s immense and diverse and culturally-forward and you will be able to find all sorts of people who don’t even know it’s football season much less who Texas is playing. —Drew

Meaningless opposition to a hyper-capitalist monstrosity seems like it’d be celebrated throughout Austin. —Jason

Is Horns Down an acceptable celebration after scoring a touchdown?

I think Horns Down is acceptable after any touchdown. Up 50? Horns down. Down 50? Horns Down. Houston Nutt did it in their face and I can’t think of anything more disrespectful, so that breach has already been crossed. —Bunkie Perkins

Yes. —Jason

If you think scoring on Texas is a big deal, I assume you haven’t been watching their games for the last decade. —Allen

If you are an Oklahoma player. —Drew

Of course! Provided that the celebrant does not in any way make it “towards” any one person or entity. The best way to ensure a non-penalty horns-down celebration is to quietly proceed into a walled room, close the door, turn off all the lights, avert one’s gaze meekly to the floor, and make the hand gesture briefly towards the ground. —Rush

Unacceptable. The appropriate celebration is to grovel in gratitude for the fleeting privilege to play football in the midst of the wealthiest program on earth. —Jimmy Gards, GBH

Depends on which conference provides the officials. —Lucas

What about after a game-winning touchdown?

Act like you’ve been there before – like many, many others before you. —Allen

Same as above, but since the game’s over one may leave the lights on. —Rush

Yes. —Jason

Two-point conversion?

Yes. —Jason

Will Grier says emphatically yes. —Drew

Oh dear. We’re not expecting seven overtimes, are we? —Rush

On a scale of beans-in-chili to Nolan-Ryan-was-overrated, how disrespectful is it to give the Horns Down when eating delicious Texas-style smoked brisket?

Well, you’re eating a dead cow, so the Horns Down is an homage, really. —Jimmy

People sometimes say, “this food is so good, it’ll make you slap your mama.” I think talking about slapping a mother is far worse than doing a hand sign, so if your brisket makes someone do a Horns Down, you should just take the compliment and be glad no one is threatening actual violence. —Jason

Well I mean, are you dipping your fingers in the sauce to make sure its decent and not some vinegar-y or mustard-based trash? Then sure, you can’t help if your hand naturally goes to horns down when doing that. Carpal tunnel is a bitch, man. —Bunkie

What about when eating tacos?

Hard shell or soft? —Allen

A taco is shaped like a Hook ‘Em. Horns Down all you like while eating one. Perfectly balanced. —Jason

Great tacos require two hands. —Drew

Good tacos require both hands. —Lucas

Is it an appropriate response to give if an Austin native suggests you go Vegan?

I’d say no. First, there are no Austin natives - they all moved there from California. Second, signaling horns down might lead them to believe you are a vegetarian. No need to further mislead the tragically misled. —Lucas

Actually, yes. —Allen

In fact, it’s a sign of solidarity. The tranquil bovine’s head angles downward toward its earthly meal, rather than up at full attention with eyes toward threats. —Jason

How about when someone goes on and on about this amazing SXSW panel they attended?

I liked SXSW panels better the first time I saw them... when they were called “TEDTalks.” —Allen

Look man, if you’re talking to Wescott voluntarily I can’t help you. —Lucas

Having sort of done SXSW, I can assure you this person has likely never heard of college football. Go nuts. —Jason

Will Matthew McConaughey get mad at us for doing it?

Look, heres the thing about Wooderson. He’s from East Texas. Anyone south of I-10 will immediately tell you that Shreveport is basically East Texas. Therefore, Matthew McConaughey is basically from Shreveport. That’s not really Texas Longhorn country now is it, Matt?! So at best, he’s a sidewalk fan, at worst, he’s a carpetbagger from a neighboring state, so you cant take anything he says seriously. —Bunkie

Let him, kemosabe, because rage is the most transitory in the entire panoply of emotions that we pretend we can control by naming them “the human condition.” Ergo, this too shall pass, amigo. —Allen

Knew a bull once that couldn’t grow any horns. Name was Rusty. Each dawn Rusty would make the voyage to the town’s cisterns filled with spring water. Agua, k? Rusty would pray to the Hindu god of Kamadhenu – the mother of all cows. [laughs to self] Ol’ Rus just wanted a set of Horns, man. Do we approach Kamadhenu with such reverence when we’re getting down on a platter of greasy enchiladas? Reckon we ought to, Kemosabe. For Rusty and the horns that never were. —Jimmy

When the road meets the sunset, kemosabe, it folds back under itself, and that’s something we forgot, haven’t we? You and I intend to ride until the night below is up above. The banshees beneath our feet monitor the moon, capitan. It ain’t always up there. Sometimes it’s where it should be. Upside ain’t up, where we’re headed. The flavor of battle: it regulates itself different at that angle, mon ami. You can turn the horns down, but in the end, the horns are always up, except there ain’t no end, now is there, amiga? Let the daze orient you anew, where the only down is the get down and the only function, cousin, is formless. Hook ‘em. —Jason

Can we give Horns Down to the screen every time Sandy brings up being from Texas on Spongebob?

Is the TV in question connected to the Longhorn Network? If so, best not. —Rush

I’m not sure what this means, so yes. —Jason

What if some sort of mental episode locks your hand in the Horns Down position?

You receive a diploma from the the University of Oklahoma, a university of which their football team can be proud. —Drew

This literally happened to Bret Bielema. Entirely coincidental that it happened right before a game against Texas. —Jason

If I’m working on a computer, and use my index and pinky to press down Shift+CTRL at the same time, am I disrespecting Texas?

Hmm, on my Macbook, they’re right next to each other, requiring a pinching maneuver. I asked my daughter, and she says this looks like vampire teeth. Bats are Aggies. So yes, you are disrespecting Texas. —Jason

The control functions are an integral part of computing, much like Texas is totally an integral part of the college football dynamic, no totally, wouldn’t be the same without them, a national powerhouse for sure. They have their own television network, did you know that? Yeah, its on Real TV and everything, whats that, you can’t find it on your guide, well keep looking, its probably near the Spanish language channels and that weird BYU channel. Wait, what was I saying? Yeah, not disrespectful at all. —Bunkie

What if we’re trying to give the “hang loose” sign, but you accidentally use the wrong finger?

You should save the “I accidentally used the wrong finger” excuse for Ole Miss. —Lucas

This would probably be the thing that actually upsets Matthew McConaughey. —Jason

What if Bevo, the highest-ranking University of Texas official, sneezes and his horns, for a fraction of a second, or pointed in a downward position? How does one punish a deity?

This is the plot of Exodus 32. —Jason

He may be trying to gore a bulldog and as you point out he is the boss so is given poetic license. —Drew

Bevo works in mysterious ways. —Allen

If my nephew is pretending to be Spiderman and he makes his web-sling motion upside down, can he be arrested in some Texas counties?

Spiderman is actually a recognized law enforcement member across the entire state of Texas, so the badge makes that shit legal. —Bunkie

How old is he and what is he wearing? I don’t believe cosplay is a crime. —Drew

Spider-Man is often upside down, so he does this all the time. But he’s from New York City and has also never heard of college football. More importantly, I’d like to call your attention to this image:


Is the Horns Down symbol considered a marriage proposal to Aggies?

Amongst Aggies? Who can say? From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it. Or something. —Drew

The Aggie mating ritual involves such a complex suite of hand gestures, war whoops, animal genuflections, self-crotch grabs, midnight hollering, fracking, and other curiosities that I don’t even know if there’s time for another hand sign. Also I think instead of Horns Down, the Aggies should do regular Hook ‘Em Horns, but with the two pointy fingers halfway bent -- you know, like they’re sawed off. (This also looks like a dog.) —Jason

I believe that’s what the member of the Corp substitute for the shocker behind closed doors. —Bunkie

Enjoy responsibly.