Above: Harley Clark, flashing the Hook ‘em Horns hand sign at the 2013 Gone To Texas freshman convocation. Harley passed away in October 2014. Photo by Marsha Miller.
Harley Clark loved to tell the story. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the University of Texas football team, “high on brain power, but low on brute force,” was preparing for an important contest against the 6th ranked TCU Horned Frogs. The game was to be played in Austin on Saturday afternoon, November 12th, at the usual 2 p.m. kick-off.
The UT squad hadn’t fared all that well. Though Memorial Stadium had just been outfitted with lights and night games were played for the first time, the team was 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Southwest Conference. But league front runner Texas A&M was on probation for recruiting violations and not eligible for post-season play. If Texas could pull a mighty upset over TCU and then win out, the Longhorns would spend New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
The week before the game, Texas fans did all they could to support the team. Signs were hung on the Texas Union. Impromptu football rallies were held almost every night in front of Hill Hall (later expanded to Moore-Hill), the residence for most of the athletes. The red candle tradition was employed. First used in 1941 to “hex” the Texas Aggies, candles burned brightly in store windows along the Drag, in offices downtown, and in homes all over Austin. Local businesses found it difficult to keep red candles in stock.
Above: To campaign for the Head Yell Leader spot, Harley distributed cards that fellow students pinned on their shirts.
At the center of all this activity was Harley Clark, who’d been elected Head Yell Leader in a campus-wide election the previous April. In the 1950s, the position was highly prized. The Head Yell Leader was responsible for the health and well-being of the Texas Longhorn spirit, and Harley took the assignment seriously.
A government major, Harley and his trademark crew cut was an easy figure to spot on the Forty Acres. He seemed to be involved in everything: gymnastics team, Texas Union committees, freshman orientation, Friar Society, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club, his home base, where he roomed with his close friend (and future Austin mayor) Frank Cooksey. Harley would eventually be elected student body president – the first to serve while enrolled in grad school – and earn three UT degrees, a BA and MA in government, as well as a law degree.
Elected Head Yell Leader at the end of his sophomore year, Harley spent part of the summer of ’55 backpacking through Europe with fellow UT student Speed Carroll. Occasionally, the two would write or phone their whereabouts to family and friends in Austin, and Willie Morris, then editor of The Daily Texan, would report on their adventures in the newspaper. “The Eiffel Tower,” said Harley, “is taller that UT’s and has the added attraction of being quite free of English professors.” Along with taking in the sights of the Old Country, Harley was also hatching plans for the upcoming fall term. The stadium, he thought, was far too quiet during football games, and he wanted to do something to boost the decibel level.
Above: Ten-inch plastic megaphones were distributed at the Texas vs. Baylor game. Fans used them for the rest of the season.
On their way back to Austin, Harley and Speed first stopped in New York, and, not yet recovered from jet lag and without making any appointments, spent two days pestering every advertising company they could find along Madison Avenue. They were looking for a company to sponsor ten-inch plastic megaphones to be distributed at a football game. If the fans had their own megaphones, Harley reasoned, the stadium would certainly be a little louder. Just before they had to push on to Austin, Old Gold Cigarettes (It was the 1950s, remember.) agreed to provide 10,000 orange and white personal megaphones with the company logo printed on the front. The order didn’t arrive until the Baylor game in early November, but they were a big hit with the students and were used for the rest of the season.
The official Texas vs. TCU football rally was set for Friday evening, November 11, 1955 in Gregory Gym. A torchlight parade of several thousand students, led by a Dixieland Band on a flat-bed truck, set out from the northwest corner of campus, marched south on Guadalupe, then east on 21st Street to the gym. There was rousing music by the Longhorn Band (with its newly acquired “world’s largest bass drum,” dubbed Big Bertha), yells by the cheerleaders, and spirited talks by Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, Head Coach Ed Price and Team Captains Herb Gray, Johnny Tatum, and Menan Schriewer. Then, at the end of program, Harley decided to introduce something new.
A few days earlier, while in the Texas Union, Harley was talking with classmate Henry “H.K.” Pitts, who suggested that the hand sign with the index and little fingers extended, looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?
Above: The Moment. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign is shown for the first time in Gregory Gym. At the lower left, someone is trying out the new signal for themselves. The head at the lower right belongs to Longhorn Band Director Vince DiNino.
Harley liked the idea, and decided to show it at the Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out, and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised. (In this case, a tradition had two creators. Think of H.K. as the research and development office, with Harley in charge of marketing and sales.)
Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Dean Nowotny. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture.
Sometimes, when recounting the story, Harley said that Dean Nowotny also demanded, “Do you know what this means in Sicily?!!” Or Italy. Or Europe. I asked Harley if it were true, did Nowotny really say that, and Harley admitted that it was the only embellishment he added, mostly just to get a laugh from his audience. For accuracy’s sake, while Nowotny was unhappy that Harley hadn’t first cleared the idea of an “official” hand sign with the administration, the reference to Sicily, didn’t actually happen.
The next day at the football game, the student section practiced what they had learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs. And while TCU won the day (47-20) the University of Texas had a new tradition it would cherish for decades to come.
Fifty years later, November 11, 2005, was again the Friday before a home UT football game. The 1955 cheerleaders returned to the campus for a reunion and special rally in Gregory Gym, where they reenacted the start of a tradition half a century before. In honor of the anniversary, the UT Tower was lit orange with a “50” in the windows.
November 12, 2005: During halftime of the Texas vs. Kansas football game, the Longhorn Band performed a salute to the 50th anniversary of the Hook ’em Horns hand sign.
Really interesting. In my three years at UT in the late ’70s I never knew the genesis of the Hook ’em Horns salute. Happy 60th!
Kevin – Thanks for the note. Glad you liked it!
Love the story! As a proud freshman in 1969, I used the Hook ’em Horns sign a lot! Kept it up over the years. Fun to know about the origin. Actually thought it was much older since it is so well recognized!!
Great story. I grew up in texas and was taught the hook ’em horns sign at a young age. Living out of state now, its heart warming to read the story of the origin and hear about the 50th reunion. Hook ’em!
Smokin Smitty BBA Class of 87′:
It does not matter where you go in the world somebody understands that hand sign stands for the Great State of Texas and its Longhorn fans. May it be flashed till Gabriel blows his horn! Hook em Horns!!!!! Forever
Great Story !, so interesting 1955 the year I was born, studied in UT in 1974 , the hook sign had only19 years of age, exactly my age at the time I arrived to Austin.
According to UT alumnus Gordon R. Wynne, Jr., the rally mentioned above was a combination “Community Chest” fundraiser and football pep rally. Gordon, who would be hired as Judy Garland’s road manager right out of school, organized the fundraiser and asked Harley if he would like to make it a combined event, which they did. Harley introduced the sign at the event and Gordon was standing there as Nowotny upbraided him for not getting it approved beforehand.