A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 08, 2012
“Second place is the first loser” (sports adage)

"Second place is the first loser” is a popular sports saying that has been printed in many T-shirts. The saying has been cited in print since at least April 1994 and is of unknown authorship. The American race car driver Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (1951-2001) is often given credit for the saying (the line is used in the 2004 film, 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story) , but this has not been verified by any printed citation before September 1996.

In a single elimination tournament (such as the NCAA basketball championship), the team that loses in the final game and finishes in second is actually the last team to lose, not the first. “Second place is the first loser” means “second place is the best loser”—but a loser nevertheless.

Similar sports sayings include “First is first and second is last” and “You don’t win silver—you lose gold.”


Sports Illustrated
April 04, 1994
Sporting A New Look
Steve Wulf
(...)
The bantamweight Collins wears a T-shirt that says SECOND PLACE IS THE FIRST LOSER, and this season—you read it here first—he will lead the league in ejections.

29 July 1994, Modesto (CA) Bee, “Psycho Brothers & Skid Sister” by James TenNapel, pg. C1:
He is the intimidator, wearing his motto on the back of his T-shirt every Saturday: Second place is the first loser.

1 August 1994, Aiken (SC) Standard, “Holy Bull Win Sets Up Travers Showdown” (AP), pg. 1B, col. 5:
“Second place is only the first loser, that’s all it is.”
(Meadow Flight’s jockey, Joe Bravo—ed.)

5 June 1995, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, “Tracy edges Unser Jr. for Indy-car victory,” pg. 2D:
“I don’t like to finish second, because you’re the first loser,” Unser said.

18 June 1995, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Weekend Warriors” by Mark Mandernach, Tempo Lake, pg. 1:
Painted inside Roebuck’s car is a simple saying: “Second Place is the First Loser.”

Google Books
High-Maintenance Relationships
By Les Parrott
Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers
1996
Pg. 151:
He was wearing a red T-shirt that proclaimed: “If you come in second place, you are the first loser.” I don’t know if he understood the impact of his shirt’s message, but if he did, he must certainly be a Competitor in training.

Google Books
The Gifted Kids ́Survival Guide:
A Teen Handbook

By Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle
Minneapolis, MN: Free spirit publ.
1996
Pg. 67:
Our world is full of messages that exhort us to be #1. You’ve seen them on T-shirts and in advertisements: “If you can’t win, don’t play.” “Second place is for the first loser.”

6 July 1996, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), “Women’s hoop league should tip-off public”:
“It’s second place,” Warden said, “but second place is the first loser.”

4 August 1996, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, “Gold-medal hopes turn to post-Olympic blues,” Sports, pg. 1:‎
“If you’re not the gold medalist, you’re the first loser,” Lenzi said.

4 August 1996, Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), “Winning the mind games: Psychologists help athletes cope with pressures” by Christopher Sullivan (AP):
“You see these Nike slogans—‘Second place is the first loser,’” Wrisberg said. “I have problems with that, but that’s the world our athletes have to live in.”

23 September 1996, Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Earnhardt watches season slip away” by Thomas Pope:
Anything less than victory is unacceptable, and he believes in his heart that finishing second means he’s the first loser. If he can’t win, he sees no point in hanging around the track, for anything or anybody.
(Dale Earnhardt, Sr.—ed.)

Google Books
March 1997, Popular Mechanics, “Behind the Wall” by Scott Oldham, pg. 48, col. 1:
... the only thing I can think of is the imprint on a guy’s T-shirt that I saw yesterday in the pits: “Second place is the first loser.”

New York (NY) Times
AUTO RACING; Vasser Shows a Short Game at Nazareth
By TARIK EL-BASHIR
Published: April 28, 1998
(...)
‘’Usually when you get second, you’re the first loser,’’ said Zanardi, who has finished third or better in 9 of the last 11 CART races.

Poptimal
Friday Night Lights: Second Place is the First Loser
March 16, 2009 by Jaimie Campos
Filed under Television
This week on Friday Night Lights: Saracen saves the day and looks adorable; Riggins takes a leap and looks adorable; Tyra runs away, gets in trouble, whines, cries, and makes her pretty sad face.

Speedway Media
‘Second place is just the first loser.’ … Dale Earnhardt
Published on September 6, 2010 by Angela Campbell
I’m not sure if he was the first to say it but this simple phrase captures the heart and soul of the man we knew as “The Intimidator.” His fierce determination to never settle for anything less than first place resulted in seven championship titles.

(Trademark)
Word Mark SECOND PLACE IS THE FIRST LOSER
Goods and Services (CANCELLED) IC 025. US 022 039. G & S: CLOTHING, NAMELY - T-SHIRTS, SWEATSHIRTS, CAPS, AND JERSEYS. FIRST USE: 20030710. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20030710
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 78285747
Filing Date August 11, 2003
Current Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition June 1, 2004
Registration Number 2929811
Registration Date March 1, 2005
Owner (REGISTRANT) Lewis, Douglas J INDIVIDUAL UNITED STATES 7935 Glenside Pl St. Louis MISSOURI 63130
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Cancellation Date October 7, 2011

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Sunday, July 08, 2012 • Permalink