Mar. 27, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks former player Patrick Ewing takes a bow to the crowd at the game against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Ewing Theory Offers Hope For Dallas Cowboys

I was sitting on the couch Monday afternoon when the FanSided app on my phone notified me that Tony Romo would be out for the rest of the season with a back injury.

My reaction was immediate denial. The news came from an Adam Schefter tweet, nothing from the team. Maybe Romo had a chance? He just played a whole game like that…how could he be out for the season? The Garrett press conference gave me some hope, with the coach saying Tony was day-to-day.

But then, acceptance started to kick in. What else would Garrett say? There was no competitive edge to gain from revealing that Tony wouldn’t play. Meanwhile, offering at least the possibility of his return would require Philly to prepare for two quarterbacks.

And even if Romo could deal with the pain, what kind of fan would I be to wish that he plays? We’re talking about a major back injury here. Playoff berth or not, beating Philly isn’t worth risking his NFL career. Or his future health in general. Tony has a wife and kids. He deserves to be able to enjoy his life after football with them in as good of health as possible.

I knew he would try to get out on the field Sunday no matter what. But I hoped that if the doctors were even a little worried about long-term damage he would sit this one out. Winning a football game isn’t worth living a life in pain.

As of this morning, it looks like that is what will happen. Earlier today Romo was put on season-ending IR after undergoing back surgery. Now I’m left to write this season off as a loss. Orton is obviously good but not good enough to get my hopes up. This season is most likely ending with 8-8 and a loss to Philly.

But then I remembered something: The Ewing Theory.

For those that don’t know, The Ewing Theory is a creation of former ESPN writer and Grantland founder Bill Simmons and his friend Dave Cirilli. It’s named after Patrick Ewing because Cirilli was convinced that Patrick Ewing’s teams (both at Georgetown and with New York) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble.

According to Simmons, one of the theory’s best examples came during the 99 NBA Playoffs:

Ewing tore an Achilles tendon during the second game of the Eastern finals against Indiana. With Ewing finished for the playoffs and nobody else on the Knicks who could handle Rik Smits, the series seemed like a foregone conclusion. As an added bonus, since Ewing himself was involved, that made this the ultimate test of the Ewing Theory; in fact, I e-mailed Dave that week to say, “This is the greatest test yet.”


Dave’s return e-mail oozed with confidence, as he told me in no uncertain terms, “Ewing’s injury is the best thing that ever could have happened to the Knicks — they’re definitely making the Finals now.” So what happened? The Knicks won three of the next four and advanced to the NBA Finals for only the second time in 26 years. Had Jeff Van Gundy’s crew shocked the Spurs in the Finals without Ewing, Dave might have his own line of “How-To” videos out right now (a Knicks upset was simply too tall of a task against Duncan and Robinson, Ewing Theory or no Ewing Theory).

Some more notable examples of the theory include (all examples are from Simmons’ article on the subject published last February, his explanations are more robust so you should check out the original):

  • 1998 – Peyton Manning leaves Tennessee without winning a National Championship or beating Florida; Vols win the title the next year
  • 1999 – Trent Green tears ACL; Kurt Warner takes Rams to win a Super Bowl
  • 1999 – Barry Sanders retires; Lions make the playoffs with a terrible team
  • 2000 – Dan Marino retires; Dolphins make the playoffs with Jay Feidler
  • 2001 – Seattle Mariners lose A-Rod; Team wins an MLB record 116 games
  • 2001 – Drew Bledsoe gets knocked out for the season; Tom Brady takes the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win
  • 2006 – Tiki Barber retires; Giants win the Super Bowl.

These are only a few examples of the theory. Like I said before, you can check out Simmons’ original article for a more in-depth case study.

Moving on, the theory has two caveats:

• A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).

• That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) — and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season (or, in this case, the playoffs).

When those elements collide, you have the Ewing Theory.

Has any athlete met these criteria better than Romo? He dominates the conversation about Dallas. Mention to anyone, not even a sports fan, that you like the Cowboys and you are bound to hear that person’s opinion on Romo. He is consistently one of the most hated athletes in the United States. His last name has become synonymous with failing. This undrafted free agent has become bigger than the Cowboys name itself while the team has accomplished one (1) playoff win during his tenure.

Meanwhile, Dallas has been written off since Romo’s injury was announced. They are -7 home dogs to a Philadelphia team that was beaten down by the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. This is the same Philly team Dallas beat 17-3 earlier in the season. That win was courtesy of the defense, not Romo. Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN’s lead Cowboys writer, had this to say:

The biggest difference between Romo and Orton is that Romo is capable of beating the Eagles by himself, so to speak. He could make everyone else better with his athleticism. Orton’s not that kind of player…Whatever happens Sunday, Romo Haters will have a much greater appreciation for the missing starter.

And here’s Grantland’s Bill Barnwell:

You don’t need me to tell you that going from Romo to Orton represents an enormous downgrade for the Cowboys. Orton’s one of the better backup quarterbacks in football, but he’s replacing one of the NFL’s best starters. Even if you were down on Romo for his poor play in key moments like the one he was about to face in Week 17, the last time Orton was getting reps was in 2011, when he was benched (rightly) for Tim Tebow.

Barnwell, however, goes on to say that Dallas has a chance to win with Orton. He also points out that if they do, the coverage will be “insufferable”, with talk of how the Cowboys never needed Romo in the first place.

And this is what’s fascinating. Not only do we have the Ewing Theory working for the Cowboys, Romo himself seems to be one of the unluckiest athletes alive. Wouldn’t it make complete sense for his narrative if Orton stepped in and took the Cowboys to the playoffs, something Tony has only done once? If any player could possibly be discredited a week after scoring on 4th and 10 against his teams most hated rival to save the season – it would be Romo. And a Cowboys win over Philly would make that happen.

The only thing stopping this theory?

Jerry Jones literally sold his soul to the Devil for those 3 Super Bowl wins and God had been toying with him ever since. Nonetheless, we could easily have both curses (Romo’s and Jerry’s) upheld. A decent playoff run that ends just short of the Super Bowl would see Romo wrongfully blamed for Dallas’ issues, while simultaneously punishing Jerry for his greed.

I think Romo is a great quarterback and would rather have him under center come Sunday night. But considering the risks for his future if he did play (and the potential for Ewing Theory magic) I’m feeling good rolling with Orton.

Fear the (neck) beard.

Tags: Bill Simmons Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo

  • Old Frog

    Orton takes us to the Super Bowl? Good luck with that.

    • 45yearcowboyfan

      P Manning couldn’t take this defense to the Super Bowl. In fact I doubt he can take the Denver D to the superbowl. Funny Giants D took Eli though….

  • StayGold

    I don’t want to see Romo fall victim to the Ewing theory, but nevertheless, I will be rooting for a win Sunday night. We would not be in this position to win and get in without Tony’s heroic 4th and goal clutch touchdown pass. Get well soon Tony, look forward to seeing you back next Summer.

  • SmartThinking

    You took about 1,250 words to say you’re “hoping” the team can outplay what it’s shown us so far this season. And with a back up quarterback. And with the defensive quarterback out as well. And with the point spread already at Philadelphia at +7 1/2 and growing.

    Here in Realville, we’ll keep our money in the bank on this one. As much as I’d like to see a different outcome, based on everything stacking up against them, I strongly suggest you prepare yourself for the worst.

    • 45yearcowboyfan

      Don’t take a crap on the author…..he’s here to entertain and fill space. He found a novel approach to fill “1,250 words” and given the developments since that last TD vs Washington this is about as good as it gets…….hope and wishful thinking. I’ll take it.

  • Pete Vieira

    Romo was never going to play this game .Jerry’s a stubborn arrogant A-hole but knows the spin game well ,this is nothing more than a save face ploy.If we lose what better excuse for Romo Garret and himself ,if we win ,what a great coaching job by Garret, what a great GM to have put us in this position overcoming such adversity losing our starting QB ,and Romo another lose and go home scenario would be too much for Romo to overcome. Even though our D stinks ,the choke factor has been eliminated ,we have great receivers and Murray healthy and if we pound the ball ,and rest our D more ,we can win this. Orton and Kitna don’t possess the talent Romo has but they don’t possess the choke factor either.We can beat the Eagles in spite of Jerry and his puppets, can’t see beating anyone else after the Eagles ,this will be our Superbowl. PLS BOYCOTT until Jerry steps aside.

    • 45yearcowboyfan

      I like the boycott Jerry part…..

  • Stu

    How many teams never get the chance to play for a division title in the last week of the season? The Giants, Redskins and Eagles all only have gotten to do it once….we’ve been there three years in a row! Romo is a very good QB…very good, not great. There is a reason he went undrafted. He has consistently delivered exactly what a good QB can be expected to deliver….and more. He has managed to take a few mediocre teams to the brink of the playoffs. He’s good enough to win it all on a good team, not a mediocre one. I hope this Ewing thing holds true and Orton takes us all the way to a SuperBowl victory (not holding my breath)…but if it does, I sure won’t be knocking Romo. I will be celebrating the most amazing SperBowl championship since two years ago when the mediocre Giants beat a very good Patriots team. GO COWBOYS!!!

  • 45yearcowboyfan

    Funny post, makes perfect sense to me in this otherwise imperfect world…..Dallas 34-Philly 21