The Horns, Kiss, the devil and the battle for the hook 'em sign

Texas fans have been enthusiastically throwing up the "hook 'em" sign since 1955. John Rivera/Icon Sportswire

Call this round for the Texas Longhorns.

After Gene Simmons' short-lived attempt to trademark the hand gesture also known as the "hook 'em" sign, Longhorns fans -- and rock 'n' roll fans -- everywhere can breathe easily.

It all started earlier this month when Simmons -- the Kiss guitarist -- filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark "a hand gesture with the index and small fingers extended upward and the thumb extended perpendicular."

Except that sounded familiar, especially to Longhorns fans. It certainly caught the attention of University of Texas president Greg Fenves, who fired his shot on Twitter -- because what good is Twitter if you can't call out rock stars over hand gestures?

Fenves is right, the Longhorns have used that sign since the 1950s (Simmons' trademark application claimed first use in 1974). The late Harley Clark, once a head cheerleader for the Longhorns, is credited by the university as being the first to flash the hook 'em Horns hand sign in 1955 when Texas played TCU.

Clark is said to have unveiled it at a pep rally on Nov. 11, 1955, and it caught on enough that students and alumni were flashing the horns in the stadium the next day. According to the school, the 1955 cheerleaders re-enacted the start of the tradition at a 50-year reunion before a home game in 2005. Over the years -- in a sporting context, at least -- it has been synonymous with the Longhorns.

The Longhorns -- while noting there's a difference between Simmons' trademark application (thumb extended out) and the traditional hook 'em sign (thumb tucked over the middle and ring fingers) -- were certainly good sports about it all.

"We are never surprised to see someone who wants to use a symbol that's similar to the hook 'em Horns symbol that Longhorn fans have been using since 1955. It's a great symbol," Texas spokesman J.B. Bird told ESPN.com. "We promise Gene Simmons that we're not going to sing 'Beth' at the end of football games."

So that settles it, right? Wrong.

Many a rock fan will tell you that it wasn't Simmons who popularized the hand sign but instead the late Ronnie James Dio, who once upon a time replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Wendy Dio, the widow of Ronnie James Dio, essentially said the hand sign is a gift for all of us.

"It belongs to everyone; it doesn't belong to anyone," she told TheWrap.com. "It's a public domain; it shouldn't be trademarked."

And she has a point. While her late husband often gets the credit (even Wikipedia says Dio popularized the gesture in heavy metal), it's hard for one person to claim it. In an interview, Dio himself once said, "I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that."

On the cover of the Beatles' album "Yellow Submarine," which was released in 1969, a cartoon rendering of the band features John Lennon holding up his right hand apparently making the hand-horns. A cover of the single "Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby," released a few years earlier, featured Lennon himself doing the sign, with the back of his hand facing forward.

The band Coven released an album titled "Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls" in 1969 that had two members of the group making the sign on the back cover.

So while the Longhorns claim it, outside the state of Texas, the sign is most likely to be seen from fans and/or performers at your friendly neighborhood rock or metal concert.

But wait -- it isn't just Texas or music culture that claims it. There's more.

In American Sign Language, a similar gesture is used to signify "I love you."

It has Italian roots -- Ronnie James Dio often said he got the gesture from his Italian grandmother, who used it to fight the "evil eye" (known in Italian as "malocchio").

And don't forget Satan -- some folks call those the "devil's horns," which can make for an awkward situation if you also happen to be a Longhorns fan or alum (just ask former first daughter Jenna Bush).

And there's at least one other university out there that uses the gesture. Remember when former Texas coach Charlie Strong got the South Florida job? Yeah, this happened:

They're the Bulls.

Now that Simmons has withdrawn the application, the entire issue is moot. It might have been moot anyway, because it's not as if the Longhorns would've suddenly stopped flashing the horns if Simmons had landed the trademark.

So rock on. And hook 'em.