By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published May 13, 2022 at 5:21 PM

Own the Future. Built to Stay. Light it up, light it up – as well as let it fly, let it fly. In recent years, Milwaukee's invented many slogans and rallying cries to back the Bucks. But there's one MVP – most valuable phrase – that, no matter what, rises above the rest: Fear the Deer. 

It's sports fan perfection: It rhymes, it fits easily into a chant, it's goofy and playful yet intimidating and catchy – ideal for a team named after a docile woodland herbivore. "Fear the Deer" seems so obvious. But where did it come from? 

For such a simple, perfect catchphrase, tracking its origins is a little more complicated. There is, however, one standard and generally accepted starting point: the 2009-10 NBA season – a year of unexpected excitement surrounding a typically middling team, as rookie Brandon Jennings helped drive the Bucks to their best regular season record since the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals year. Jennings and company would earn a six seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, a hotly contested series that would go all seven games – complete with a chance for the Bucks to even win in six. (That being said, fellow Brew City cult catchphrase, #BucksInSix, would have to wait until 2013 to come to prominence.)

Amidst all of that excitement, "Fear the Deer" echoed throughout the then-Bradley Center and Milwaukee sports bars – but the Bucks themselves couldn't take credit for the genius rhyme. In fact, the Bucks already had a slogan for that season: "Work Hard, Play Hard." But in the world of catchphrases, that was the Detroit Pistons and "Fear the Deer" was the Milwaukee Bucks. 

So if the Bucks didn't come up with it, merely adopting it over the years, who did?

Some point toward – what else – Twitter, a fan-created hashtag that made its way into an official rallying cry. Others say Squad 6, the Bucks in-house fan section, started the chant. But the theory with the most hard evidence behind it says "Fear the Deer" didn't originate from Milwaukee, but actually out east – in Bristol, Connecticut. 

A Bill Simmons ESPN column from March 23, 2010, breaking down the Bucks' regular season win against the very same Hawks they'd play in the postseason, very excitedly discusses the growingly popular chant, explaining at one point that "Fear the Deer," "started about a week ago when an ESPN announcer screamed it during a highlight." A Business Insider article from November later that same year helped fill in some of the detail, claiming that it was ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt who dropped the first "Fear the Deer" into the public consciousness.

But it was a recent tweet from ESPN anchor Steve Levy that put the final piece of the puzzle into place, uncovering the pioneer of "Fear the Deer": fellow ESPN anchor John Anderson, who confirmed it – or at least as much as one can for something as elusive as a phrase's origins – during a recent phone chat.

"Everybody around (Bristol) says 'Fear the Terrier' for Boston University, so it's always the joke: 'Fear the Spartans,' 'Fear the Packers,' whatever," Anderson explained. "For a while, I used to say 'Fear the Beer' with the Brewers. But then one night, I said 'Fear the Deer.' And I can still see a guy who was doing the show saying, 'Hey, that's pretty good; I'm going to use that next time when I'm on NBA Tonight.' And then I've just said it forever.

"I wish there was some great epiphany story where it came to me and there was an aura and a choir of angels, but I think I just wrote it some night on a piece of paper for a story and I just kind of stuck with it."

As with everything with "Fear the Deer," though, nothing's that simple. There's unfortunately no available clips of the debut of "Fear the Deer" from Anderson on "SportsCenter," and during our chat, Anderson noted several times that, of course, there's a chance that it could've started elsewhere first. Levy's tweet even has a commenter claiming that Fairfield University created the phrase first for their sports teams, the Stags.

"I'm not sure if I went into a court of law, they would go, 'Yes,' but I think I'm the guy who did it," Anderson said. "I've read a little bit where the fan section may have (come up with 'Fear the Deer'), and if it was, good on their originality and ingenuity. If I came by it second, I came by it honestly. I live in Connecticut and don't really go to Bucks games or sit in the fan section. So if somehow I've co-opted and popularized it, I'm totally fine with that too, but at least I came by it honestly."

We'll likely never know the exact starting point of the phrase "Fear the Deer" – whether it was born amongst fans in the Bradley Center or a college bar in Fairfield or merely floated out onto the internet with a tweet. Anderson's story, however, certainly puts together a strong case for him being the epicenter of the slogan's explosion into popularity in relation to the Bucks. And best of all, even though it was potentially coined in Bristol, Anderson's story still gives "Fear the Deer" origins in Wisconsin. After all, Anderson is a Green Bay native – and still an often-outspoken Sconnie sports fan at that, one that got to live the dream and leave an impact on his hometown team.

"I'm not Sidney Moncrief, but I feel like I've done a little to help," Anderson said. "We try all the time to do something that contributes to the broadcast. And the fact that this has had a little traction and stuck? Great, that's awesome ... I'm glad. It's short, it's sweet and it seems to have been adopted to some degree, so that's terrific.

"I'd rather have them win the championship than really care about the origins of 'Fear the Deer,' though."

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.