The measure of a man is the slogan he wears on his chest, and in the mid-1990s one of my favorite measurements was the No Fear t-shirt. No Fear was founded by brothers and NASCAR drivers Brian and Mark Simo, and Marty Moates. It hit its peak of popularity in the mid-1990s, and currently exists as a property of the UK retailer Sports Direct. I took the liberty of ranking 10 No Fear t-shirts from the company’s heydey from worst to best. I owned several of these shirts, which I have indicated throughout with an asterisk.
10. 2nd Place is the First Loser
Nothing encapsulates the “fuck you. You have to earn your father’s love” spirit of No Fear like this shirt. Ostensibly No Fear is supposed to represent striving to do your best, but as this shirt lays bare, it’s really about winning or else. It’s gross. This gets last.
9. Bottom of the Ninth, Down By Three, Bases Loaded, Full Count, Two Outs, No Fear
A popular No Fear technique which coincidentally didn’t require them to actually come up with ideas was just to describe a scenario from a popular sport, then cap it with “No Fear.” Given that I actually remember these shirts and know that some people in my school owned them I can’t fault No Fear for this, but I can rank this trash near the bottom of this list.
8. Five Seconds Left At the 3 Point Line Down By Two. 5…4…3…2…1…No Fear
See above. This only ranks higher because basketball is an objectively cooler sport than baseball, and a winning three at the buzzer is probably the best moment in sports.
7. If You Can’t Win, Don’t Play
On the surface this seems like a simple philosophy, but if you spend any time thinking about it this makes no sense. Unless something is unwinnable by design, there’s always a chance you can win. It’s the entire point of glorifying the Cinderella Story, something that No Fear is ostensibly all about. Unless No Fear is specifically referring only to things that are literally unwinnable. If that is the case, I apologize for doubting the logic of your philosophy and narrowly focused marketing campaign.
6. There are Lessons to Be Learned From Competition. But Fear is Not One of Them*
BOR-ING! Geez guys, maybe do a second pass and punch it up. This has none of the catchiness of #7 with about the same level of meaning. The whole point of No Fear is supposed to be recognizing these situations when there is an abundance of pressure (or fear), and working past them. In the absence of fear as a lesson to learn from competition, how are you supposed to display no fear?
5. Living: It’s the Only Thing Worth Dying For
Finally a slogan that would be equally at home on a 14 year old’s t-shirt and his mother’s cross stitch project. This shirt is about creating a bonding opportunity while introducing dumb people to basic philosophical concepts. No Fear was doing the Lord’s work here.
4. You Can’t Steal Second With Your Foot on First
Technically this is true, but also if you want to advance on a caught ball your foot better have been on first. I included this one mostly because it reminded me that when I was 12 I discovered that I could steal home plate in little league whenever I wanted, just by waiting the catcher out until he eventually threw back to the mound. My coach stopped trying to hold me and eventually just said, “Go if you want to.” Baseball was a lot of fun in the summer of 1992.
3. Life’s Not Too Short, It’s Just That You’re Dead for So Long*
This is a lot like number two below. I definitely owned this shirt and thought it sounded deep despite being terrified of death and unconvinced that any amount of time could be too short, and even though upon reflection it makes no sense. Why would the amount of time you’re dead have a bearing on whether life is too short? It’s two distinct periods. One being much longer than the other doesn’t mean that the shorter one isn’t too short. Maybe the opposite is true. Good color scheme, though. I like the use of the silver.
2. He Who Dies with the Most Toys, Still Dies*
At 15 years old, there were two things I most certainly wanted: 1) to never die, and 2) toys. I got one more toy in the form of this t-shirt, which I proudly wore despite believing none of the message. This is close to the pinnacle of sounding profound while saying nothing. To compare it to a popular 90s diet food, it’s the fat free Snackwells cookie of inspirational t-shirts.
1. Limits? We Don’t Need No Stinking Limits*
(This shirt was so exclusive that I could not locate a single photo of it. Truly an elite No Fear T-shirt. Please enjoy this artist’s rendition, which isn’t far off except the original had badges on it even though that word was swapped out for limits in the phrase.)
Oh baby, the Ne Plus Ultra of No Fear shirts. I mostly say this because my friend Andy also wanted it, so I was very proud to get it first. Once I did, you better believe I was psyched to be wearing a shirt featuring a play on a line from an old movie I’d never seen nor could name, that I only knew because one of the kids in the Tim Curry TV version of It says it. In a way, this has the most staying power of any of the No Fear shirts, because it employed the evergreen technique of appropriating a phrase from pop culture and shoehorning it into your brand, adding nothing but recognition. It’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre, now in No Fear form!
There it is, the definitive list of No Fear t-shirts. I hope you learned something, and I hope you caught the appropriation of a famous line from an animated television show in the paragraph for #1 that I only included for the sake of adding a pop culture reference. If you enjoyed the article, please share on all of your favorite social media outlets. If I missed any of your favorites, let me know. If you were more of a Big Dogs kid, fuck you.