NORMAN — The gambit began with a Sharpie, a pair of mirror selfies and a half-century-old tradition as ubiquitous as it is controversial. It ends with a question.
Did Oklahoma linebackers Danny Stutsman and Jaren Kanak really get matching ‘Horns Down’ tattoos after the Sooners’ Week 5 win against Texas?
“You won’t believe what the internet … you can’t imagine what the internet believes, man,” Stutsman said. “Got ‘em. Gotcha. Got heem (sic).”
A Sellout Crowd investigation into the pressing story at the center of the nation’s fifth-ranked college football program.
‘I woke up with a strange tattoo’
It all started Saturday afternoon in Dallas. Leading at halftime, OU rode inspired defense reminiscent of a different era in program history and a smoothly executed, fourth-quarter two-minute drill to its 34-30 win at the Cotton Bowl. All told, the Sooners’ Red River misery from last October’s 49-0 loss to Texas didn’t even last a full year.
Stutsman, OU’s unofficial defensive captain, added nine tackles to his Big 12 leading total in the win. Kanak, blossoming in his second season with the Sooners, led all OU defenders with 13 tackles and added a sack.
The biggest win of the Brent Venables era came with another productive showing from the surging linebacker duo that’s seemingly attached at the hip, this one propelling the Sooners into the College Football Playoff conversation.
No matter when, no matter where: Stutsman and Kanak always manage to find each other.
“They’re like Mutt and Jeff,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof, referencing a century-old comic strip of the same title. “They’re always together.
On Saturdays, they celebrate big plays bowing to each other after tearing up an opposing backfield. They’re together behind the mic during the week as co-hosts on The Podcast and the Prairie with former Sooners Brayden Willis and Jeremiah Hall. When Stutsman’s car got towed after the Week 2 win over SMU, Kanak was there to document it.
“(Kanak) and Danny are like Pete and Repeat, Frick and Frack,” Brent Venables said in August. “I love that. That’s what you want to develop; that culture of real, deep-seeded brotherhood with no agenda. Just love on each other, support each other and be there for one another.”
Come Sunday night, it appeared the latest step in Stutsman and Kanak’s footballing bond was a detour to a tattoo shop for some Texas-inspired ink.
Stutsman was first to show off the black outline of an upside down Texas logo on his left quad, posting a mirror selfie to Twitter/X not long after 5 p.m. Sunday. A photo of Kanak emerged soon after with the second-year linebacker flashing an identical piece of Horns Down body art.
“I woke up with a strange tattoo,” Kanak wrote in a caption.
By Monday morning, the photos had traveled far and wide across social media. Here’s the story Stutsman told Monday during his weekly appearance on The Franchise Morning Show:
“We were kind of just in Norman. We might as well just get one. I don’t think there’s a better way to put it,” he explained. “I never really had tattoos. I always thought I needed something very sentimental to me. My parents don’t really like tattoos. But once I showed my dad that he kind of was like, ‘Yeah, I can see why you did that.’
“It was a great team win. Something to remember it by. Something I don’t mind having on my body.”
As the photos circulated, some pointed to the fact that from Stutsman and Kanak’s perspective the logo appeared as a normal, upright Texas logo.
How much (flack) are you getting from Horns fans for that, Stutsman was asked.
“People actually gave me a lot of hate because they say whenever I look at it I see horns up,” he said.
This writer included:
“Well everyone else they see Horns Down,” Stutsman said. “But to me I get reminded. Reminded of that fuel and that passion that I have for the Horns up.”
‘As long as Horns have been going up, Horns have been going down at Oklahoma’
‘Horns Down’, of course, holds a history of its own.
Walk around the Cotton Bowl on a Red River Saturday and you’ll see OU fans throw the upside-down hand-signal as commonly as the Texas faithful gives the traditional ‘Horns Up’ first introduced by Henry Pitts and Harley Clark at a Texas pep rally before a Nov. 1995 meeting with TCU.
Pitts and Clark declared their creation “the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather,”. The origins of ‘Horns Down’ trace back to at least 1963 when the Daily Texan, Texas’ student newspaper, printed a photo of a Baylor fan flashing the signal on its front page.
The taunt stuck and evolved as a staple across Big 12 campuses from Lubbock to Waco to Norman in the 50 years after its initial emergence. Controversy around the hand-signal renewed in 2012.
Texas’ Mack Brown thought he was pointing out a double-standard surrounding the “disrespectful” taunt after one of his players was flagged for a celebration mocking Texas Tech’s ‘Guns Up’ hand sign. Instead, the Longhorns’ national champion coach simply offered an invitation to the rest of the conference to double and triple its diet of ‘Horns Down’.
If Brown brought the kindling, the Big 12 poured fuel on the fire several years later when it began litigating and penalizing the ‘Horns Down’ signal in what became an officiating sideshow. Few in that era raised the art form of “Horns Down’ like West Virginia did on Nov. 3, 2018.
Mountaineers wide receiver David Sills V drew the first 15-yard taunting penalty of the day when he flashed both hands ‘Horns Down’ after a 60-yard touchdown reception in Austin. Flags flew again when quarterback Will Grier followed with an even more emphatic version of the gesture after a successful two-point conversion with 16 seconds remaining in a 42-41 West Virginia win.
“I remember every single team/player that disrespects the rich tradition of the University of Texas by putting the Horns down,” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger tweeted afterward. “Do not think it will be forgotten in the future.”
OU, historically and presently, is plenty familiar with ‘Horns Down’, too.
Venables flashed it several times Saturday afternoon. It would be hard to identify a Sooners player who didn’t throw ‘Horns Down’ in the postgame celebration. Thousands more in crimson got to do the same on their walk out of the fairgrounds.
“As long as Horns have been going up, Horns have been going down at Oklahoma,” Barry Switzer told ESPN in 2019. “No one’s ever gonna stop doing it.”
‘Clean leg. We got ya.’
Stutsman and Kanak appeared to have their place in the latest chapter of ‘Horns Down’ lore with their matching tattoos … except they never happened … probably … maybe.
The supposed hero of this particular Red River story? A black Sharpie you could buy for $1.48 at an office supply store.
“It was actually fake — as you guys can see there’s nothing there,” Stutsman told reporters after the Sooners’ Monday night practice session, showing off his left thigh. “Clean leg. We got ya.”
The tattoos are not permanent … so long as you take Stutsman’s word. Nothing more than an elite roll job, right?
Some watchful onlookers noted Stutsman’s original photo featured a tattoo on his right thigh, not his left. Asked to show his right thigh Monday, Stutsman declined and smirked.
“You guys are asking a lot,” he said.
Fact or fiction on this one? Good luck.
Regardless of the truth, Stutsman and Kanak’s head coach — himself once an imposing college linebacker who understands the emotion of a big win — is only moderately amused by the stunt.
“They have enough things to worry about,” Venables said Monday. “They need to get their hair fixed first.”
Whether the tattoos are real or not, Stutsman says he wouldn’t mind having a real one in the spot he scribbled those upside-down horns. The Sooners sit in the driver’s of the Big 12 race now and he knows just who might be waiting in the conference title game on Dec. 2.
“You look down, you see the horns up and you instantly want to work out, get a lift in, be productive with your day. It really just reminds you of the history of it,” he said. “I (wouldn’t) mind if it was permanent.”