From the Miami Hurricanes’ “U” to the “Hang Loose” of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, hand signs are storied traditions at many universities across the United States. They act as important symbols of school pride and spirit, and many are well recognized; who doesn’t know the Florida Gators’ “Gator Chomp,” or the famous “Hook’em Horns” of the University of Texas? Yet while SLU students recognize the “Gator Chomp,” most SLU students are unaware of the most glorious hand sign of them all: the Billiken hand sign.
For those students unaware of the Billiken hand sign, it is both brilliant and simple. First, put your hand up with your palm facing out away from you. Second, leave your fingers adequately spaced apart (like they normally are). Third, fold your ring finger and middle finger all the way down. Forth, fold your index finger and pinkie finger down halfway to their respective knuckles. Lastly, bend your thumb down as far as it can and tuck it inside the palm. Make sure not to wrap the thumb around the middle and ring fingers. If done properly (consult the photo), the pinkie and index fingers simulate the Billiken ears, the middle and ring fingers simulate the face, and the thumb simulates the open eye of the Billiken.
There are numerous stories of how the Billiken hand sign began. Some alumni speculate that it is as old as 1906, when SLU football quarterback Bradbury Robinson flashed it as a tipoff to teammates of a special play—a play later known as the first forward pass in football. Others claim that it has a more ominous past: A SLU Jesuit priest flashed the sign in 1949 when performing an exorcism, causing the demon to quickly flee the power of the Billiken. But others assert that it was actually SLU legend Larry Hughes who began the hand sign. Hughes allegedly flashed the hand after being drafted eighth overall by the 76ers in the 1998 NBA Draft, but –as the story goes–cameras failed to catch it, or it most certainly would have made the ESPN Top 10.
Yet despite the legends that surround it and its great likeness to the Billiken, the hand sign has never really taken off with the SLU community. Most students don’t know about it, but all the same you will find pockets of SLU students and alumni who show this unofficial hand sign at athletic events or in Facebook profile pictures. Wouldn’t it be great if this hand sign became an official, mainstream tradition?
There will likely be a bunch of naysayers out there who’ll say stuff like “only schools with football teams have hand signs,” or perhaps “hand signs are silly.” But all the same, hand signs bolster the important college values of collectiveness, school spirit and pride. Look around at a Florida basketball game when everyone is doing the “Gator Chomp” for example; it contributes more enthusiasm and spirit than anything else. SLU has several great traditions, like the “O’ when the Bills go marching in” cheer, the flagship S-A-I-N-T L-O-U-I-S cheer, the Tuba player timeout routine and the singing of “Sweet Caroline” after a victory. But the truth is SLU’s school spirit and enthusiasm could use all the help it can get.
For a university blessed with talented teams and great venues, SLU really struggles getting students to go to games. This year we have a soccer team ranked in the top 10, yet few students go to games. Last year we had a top 25 basketball team, yet the student section was never full besides the Butler and VCU games. Additionally, A-10 champion SLU baseball is lucky if a handful of students show up to games.
SLU needs to work on its school spirit and pride, and maybe the Billiken hand sign can contribute. A higher level of school spirit will translate into higher expectations of one’s self and surroundings, and will push for positive changes at the university. It will encourage a common bond between fellow students, faculty and alumni and create endless memories that students carry with them long after graduation. Lastly, increased school spirit and pride will foster a nostalgia felt by alumni for their alma mater, bringing in more donations that better the school and increase financial aid.
Now I’m not saying that making the Billiken hand sign mainstream and widespread on campus will necessarily solve our school spirit problem, but it’s a fun step in the right direction. It would be a visible signal that could contribute in helping turn around the “no show” culture that SLU currently has, and it could be another fun way to show our collectiveness and pride. Granted, SLU doesn’t need to do this just to try to fit in with other schools; we have our own unique traditions to be proud of. But it is never too late to begin another tradition. So why not give it a try? It can’t hurt, it’s easy and fun to do and it looks like a Billiken. Fellow SLU students, let’s make this big. So “put your ‘Bills’ up” during the next SLU corner kick, SLU basketball free throw or even on your way to your next class. We are all Billikens, and the hand sign could become a fun and goofy link to that solidarity.