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Hook ’em Horns Hand Sign Turns 55

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The Hook ’em Horns sign turns 55 years old today, and there’s a funny story behind its creation.

This now-legendary hand gesture debuted in 1955, when the Longhorns were having a football season not so unlike this one. The team had a disappointing 4-4 record.

But UT was 3-3 against its Southwestern Conference rivals. And with A&M out for recruiting violations, the University could still make the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day if it could just beat nationally ranked TCU.

Loyal Longhorns rallied nightly on campus, lit red candles all over the city, and plotted other ways to keep the faith in the week before the game.

Since it was also the week of Campus Chest, an annual charity fundraising drive, the program chair suggested that its traditional variety show be combined with the Friday night pep rally.

UT head cheerleader Harley Clark was game. The planners decided to make it similar to an old-time revival, with the Longhorn spirit what was being revived. A Campus Chest student “preacher” urged students to “Git the Spirit,” and the Texas Cowboys passed around empty chicken buckets as collection plates for the fundraising drive.

After all that, Clark decided to try something new. He and his classmate Henry Pitts had been talking about how the hand sign with the index and little fingers sticking out looked a little bit like a Longhorn. A&M had its “Gig ’em.” Why not UT?

So Clark went ahead and introduced it to the crowd, pronouncing it “the official hand sign of The University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.”

Dean of Students Arno Nowotny was livid. He confronted Clark right after the rally, demanding to know how he could declare a sign official. Had it been approved by the University administration? No, it indeed had not!

“And do you know what that sign means in Sicily?!” Nowotny thundered.

“Dean,” Clark said, “I’m 19. I don’t know anything.”

The dean was mad, but the deed was done, as Texas Exes historian Jim Nicar says in his full account of the sign’s creation. The next day the stadium was full of Hook ’em Horns signs.

Although UT lost that game 47-20, the University came away with a symbol it would cherish for decades to come.

Photo courtesy McCombs School of Business.

 

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