The Ewing Theory Offers Hope For Dallas Cowboys


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

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.