Big, brash Texas makes a convenient target in the Big 12 Conference. Everyone takes their shots. The problem is when they land, the Longhorns occasionally get their feelings hurt. Then everyone is made to pay.
Oklahoma might pay with 15-yard penalties at Saturday’s Big 12 Championship football game. The Sooners are playing Texas, see, and the Sooners tend to celebrate big plays against Texas by taking UT’s “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand gesture and flipping it upside down.
West Virginia celebrated in similar fashion during its 42-41 victory in Austin on Nov. 3 and paid with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Texas Tech receiver T.J. Vasher celebrated similarly last year at Texas, and he was flagged.
Will offending Sooners be flagged Saturday? I asked the Big 12 to clarify its stance Wednesday, and received this emailed statement: “If in the judgment of the on-field officials, any action by game participants deemed an ‘Unsportsmanlike Act’ is subject to penalty in accordance with college football rules.”
It’s a judgment call, then. Kyler Murray, Kennedy Brooks or Marquise Brown aren’t being restricted from throwing “Horns down,” but should probably refrain in case officials see the gesture as taunting and worth a 15-yard penalty.
The whole thing is silly. It’s what happens when college football’s zeal over sportsmanship collides with the perception that the “Horns down” gesture is more insult than celebration.
Mack Brown was first to perceive it that way in 2012, never mind that he never made a peep about it his previous 14 years as Texas’ coach. Might have had something to do with Texas’ tumble from the top of the Big 12 at the time, but who knows.
OU counterpart Bob Stoops, a master at Texas mind games, replied: “Maybe that’s the down side to having a one-handed hand signal. The bottom line is they don’t seem to have a problem with it when they’re doing well and they put it in everyone else’s face. When they’re not and someone else does it, you get it the other way. So be it.”
The Longhorns are doing better with Tom Herman as coach and Sam Ehlinger as quarterback, and still the two headliners bemoaned West Virginia’s gestures after the Nov. 3 result.
Maybe if he had won the game Ehlinger wouldn’t have tweeted (before deleting): “I remember every single team/player that disrespects the rich tradition of the University of Texas by putting the Horns down. Do not think it will be forgotten in the future.”
The problem here is whitewashing the past. Tulsa World photo archives show Sooners flashing “Horns down” as far back as 1982, when Steve “Dr. Death” Williams celebrated OU’s 28-22 win with the gesture.
Sooners running back Kejuan Jones went “Horns down” with both hands after crashing into the Cotton Bowl end zone in 2002.
“It’s ridiculous, man. It’s just part of the rivalry,” Jones told the Tulsa World on Wednesday. “Go to the game and that’s all people are doing. ‘Horns down’ or ‘Hook ‘Em Horns.’ Coach Stoops, he didn’t care. There were times he would throw the Horns down.
“That’s part of it, man. Like certain times in their fight song, they make fun of us. You don’t hear us whining about it.”
OU fullback J.D. Runnels raised an index finger for a moment after scoring on Texas in 2003, then went right to “Horns down.”
“Me and Kejuan, it was a reaction,” Runnels told the World. “We were Oklahoma kids. We scored in their end zone. That’s just what you do. It’s a signal. We’re not flipping ‘em off.”
Another point by Runnels: “Tom Herman last year in their bowl game, that was the most immature act I have ever seen a head coach perform. When he mocked Drew Lock (Missouri’s quarterback). That was the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen a head coach in college do. And it was not penalized. Nobody from the Big 12 said anything.”
Some see convenient hypocrisy. For others, this is an unnecessary paling of college football color. It’s losing sight of characters like Brian Bosworth, who could respect Texas while still detesting them.
“You understood that they had an opportunity to play the part in the movie that could ruin your year,” Bosworth said during a 2015 visit to OU. “If you don’t take heed in fearing your opponent, if you don’t prepare for that moment of facing the ultimate opponent, then you’re a fool. We understood who they were.”
At the same time?
“If you’re on the University of Oklahoma roster and you don’t have a disdain for the University of Texas, then you should transfer. Move on out,” he said. “Because we need guys that love the rivalry.”
Maybe Big 12 administrators should recognize the rivalry and not spray it with a fire extinguisher. Maybe they should leave Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager alone, not force him to apologize for saying, “It’s 11:12 and OU still sucks” after the Longhorns’ win over Iowa State on Nov. 17.
If a Sooner plows through Hager on Saturday, he should be free to celebrate. If it hurts Hager’s feelings, or Herman’s or Ehlinger’s, tough. They signed up for football, not footsie, against rivals like Oklahoma.
Isn’t everything bigger in Texas? That goes for games like the one in the Cotton Bowl every October, and Saturday’s for a Big 12 Championship.
What a shame if penalty flags continue flying over “Horns down” and the rivalry is overrun by big babies.