My husband is a NASCAR fan, so by default I have also become one. Steve's cousin works for Kevin Harvick's pit crew, so we root for him to do well. This weekend we were listening to the commentary on the practice sessions for the race. One commentator said that if Kevin Harvick didn't practice he would end up "looking like Ned in the First Reader".
It was a phrase I had never heard before, so of course I had to research it. I had heard it as "Ned, the first reiver" so my initial web search turned up The Reivers by William Faulkner. Ned is one of the characters and is determined for a certain horse to win a race. Seemed appropriate, though it didn't illuminate the meaning of the phrase. But I was impressed that the commentator made an obscure literary reference. I figured that being a Southern writer, perhaps his works were more well known than I thought.
When you type something into Yahoo Search, it comes up with suggestions for words or phrases to complete what you're typing. One of the suggestions was "Ned the first reader." I did that search and found two things quickly. One, a lot of people also want to know what "Ned in the first reader" means. Two, coaches and sports commentators are very fond of using that phrase.
A little more research revealed that it was referring to The First Reader, most likely by McGuffey but perhaps one of the many others. It is a little difficult to determine what Ned was like from the simplistic stories and pictures in the first readers I found. There were people who reminisced about what the phrase meant to them or their parents. They say either that Ned was foolish and things always turned out poorly for him, or that he was messy and slovenly.