An athlete who gives “100%” gives a total effort to the competition. An athlete who gives “110%” gives a 100% effort, plus even a little more than maximum effort. “"We’re lucky to have fellows willing to give 110 per cent to win football games” was cited in print in 1952. The expression became very popular in the 1960s and the 1970s, when it was used by professional football coach George Allen (1918-1990) and baseball superstar Pete Rose.
1, (idiomatic) Make the maximum possible effort
14 October 1952, Tyrone (A) Daily Herald, “Panthers Honored by Student at Mass Celebration” (INS), pg. 5, col. 3:
“We’re lucky to have fellows willing to give 110 per cent to win football games, They’re all stars in my book.”
(Pittsburgh Panthers head football coach Red Dawson.—ed.)
23 November 1955, Denton (TX) Record-Chronicle, “Rice, Picked First Early, Looking For First Win” (AP), pg. 8, col. 4:
Neely said Rice misses Paul in the middle of the line because Paul was a rare lineman who gave 110 per cent on every effort.
19 July 1957, The Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA), “In This COrner” with Dick Zehms, pg. C1, col. 1:
Top transfers on hand at guard are Gil Ane, 215 pounds, whom Clark hopes will convert to center, quarterback Tom Maudlin from Menlo JC who was one of the pleasant surprises of spring practice for the new Trojan staff, and little 150-pound halfback Don Buford from LACC, the fireball type who gives 110 per cent at all times.
23 January 1959, Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), “Warren Hopes to Play Against Michigan State” by Larry Shores, pg. 8, col. 2:
In describing Warren, Coach Rohr says, “You have to like this guy because he gives 110 per cent every minute and with this type of play he covers any mistakes he might make.”
30 September 1960, Indiana (PA) Evening Gazette, pg. 19, col. 6:
He Loafed Once --
Hoak Gives 110 Percent
By Joe Reichler
Associated Press Sports Writer
8 September 1962, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Spartans Recuperating From Shock of Last Year,” sec. 2, pg. 4, col. 4:
Another regular is Billy Mullins, a 175-pound guard who “gives 110 per cent effort all the time.”
23 September 1964, The Echo (Richardson, TX), “Between the Lines,” pg. 4, col. 3:
A great team is possible only when all players give 110 percent.
3 September 1965, The Evening Times (Trenton, NJ), “No Solid Quarterback Dims Denver Broncs AFL Outlook” (UPI), pg. 22, cols. 7-8”
“And when the season starts, we’ll be ready to give 110 percent, because 100 per cent isn’t enough anymore.”
(Denver Broncos head coach Mac Speedie.—ed.)
16 December 1965, The Evening Times (Trenton, NJ), “Dick Butkus Finds Comfort Making Foes Uncomfortable,” pg. 37, col. 7:
Says Bears’ defense coach George Allen: “This boy (Dick Butkus—ed.) is all football player—this is No. 1 with him and he’s determined to be the best there is. He has great football sense and he gives you that extra all the time. You ask a football player for 100 percent. This boy gives you 110 percent all the time.”
6 September 1968, Marietta (GA) Daily Journal, pg. 35C, col. 1:
Gives 110 Percent
Bramlett Makes S. Springs ‘Run’
By BRANT DAVIS
July 09, 1973
A Hundred Percent Is Not Enough
According to the highly successful coach of the Washington Redskins, the world belongs to those who aim for 110%, who believe that the future is now, who think there is no off-season and who don’t take long lunch hours
George Allen , Joe Marshall
If I’ve succeeded it’s because I outwork most people. Work is simply a synonym for effort, and as I tell my players, “a hundred percent is not enough.” The average American pictures himself as an extremely hard worker. Sociologists and psychologists have shown, however, that most persons are really operating on less than half power. In terms of effort, they may never get over 50% although they think of themselves as 90% producers. Therefore, to get 100% you must aim for 110%. The world belongs to those who aim for 110%.
14 August 1973, Boston (MA) Herald American, “Meat Shortage Poses a Problem” by Melvin Durslag, pg. 24, col. 1:
Had Duane Thomas ballooned, say, to 245, George (George Allen—ed.) never would have traded for him. Normally demanding 110 percent, he was willing to settle for 100 less in the case of Duane, mainly because the player was trim.
October 1974, Esquire, “Will Pete Rose Ever Grow Up?” by Judy Klemesrud, pg. 211, col. 1:
Pete Rose rarely does anything half-ass. As he puts it, he always gives “one hundred ten percent.”
21 November 1974, The Collegian (University of Richmond, VA), “QB Harry Knight Hopes For A Pro Career” by Randy Falls, pg. 9, col. 1:
Knight gives a lot of credit to his offensive line, “If it isn’t the best, its one of the best in the Southern Conference. Rod Elam and Bill Daniels give 110 percent all of the time.”