Texas Primer: Football Hand Signals

The Southwest Conference may not have the best teams, but it does have the best school signs.

Blame it all on an Aggie named Pinky Downs. A 1906 Texas A&M graduate, Downs was a member of the shcool’s board of regents from 1923 to 1933. He was the kind of Aggie who wore a maroon tie every day and who prodded the school into spending an extra $10,000 so that its new swimming pool would be longer than the one at the University of Texas. When the Aggies had a yell practice before the 1930 TCU game, Downs naturally was there. “What are we going to do the those Horned Frogs?” he shouted. His muse did not fail him. “Gig ‘em, Aggies!” he improvised, appropriating a term form frog hunting. For emphasis, he made a fist with his thumb extended straight up. The Southwest Conference had its first hand sign.

The primordial image of sticking frogs with a spear captured the essence of Aggieness—a good ol’ farm boy who was not so much unsophisticated as anti-sophisticated. When other schools later developed their own hand signs, the signals likewise started out as visual representations of school mascots. But they soon evolved into more. All those horns (long and frog), claws (bear and cougar), and the rest have become totems, symbols of belonging to a tribe. Or a sect: They are, to borrow a phrase from The


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