The Richmond Tigers meteoric rise in 2017 was one that not even the most optimistic Tigers’ fans saw coming. However, a tried and tested sports theory predicted.

American sportswriter, podcaster, head honcho at The Ringer, and a massive personal inspiration, Bill Simmons has been writing about the Ewing Theory for longer than I can remember. The Ewing Theory predicted the Richmond Tigers’ 2017 performance. With potentially two more games this season, the Tigers’ season is still going strong.



So what is the Ewing Theory?

Patrick Ewing Theory applied to Richmond Tigers
1990’s NBA star Patrick Ewing

Simmons credits his long-time friend, Dave Cirilli with the theory as his brainchild. Anecdotal evidence showed that 90’s basketball star, Patrick Ewing’s teams (The New York Knicks, and his college side) performed better with Ewing off the court. Ultimately, the theory has two main components:

  1. A star player receives a substantial amount of fan and media interest, even though his side never wins anything substantial.
  2. That same athlete leaves his team either by long-term injury, trade, free agency or retirement. After the player leaves, both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.


Richmond Tigers and the Ewing Theory

Brett Deledio was Richmond’s biggest star for over a decade.

When Brett Deledio joined Richmond as a number one draft pick, he came in as the great hope at Tigerland. Deledio’s early years were spectacular with the emerging Tigers. He won the 2005 Rising Star, along with the 2008-9 Jack Dyer Medals, becoming the youngest back-to-back best and fairest winner since Michael Voss. Deledio was also a regular on the AFL media circuit. He appeared as a regular on the AFL Footy Show, and Triple M radio. Deledio was the face of the Tigers after Matthew Richardson retired.


Even as players such as Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Alex Rance, and Dustin Martin starred, Richmond was still Deledio’s side. As Deledio spent the last few years regularly missing matches through injury, the Tigers struggled, waiting for their now ageing superstar to be fit again. All in all after twelve seasons, a 45% winning percentage, and no finals’ victories later, Deledio and Richmond needed a new life. Luckily it was Deledio who broke things off, requesting a trade at the end of last season.

After placing Geelong as his preferred destination, Deledio ended in Western Sydney, as the Cats could not muster a deal. Deledio wanted a “successful place” to finish his career, and GWS were already favourites for the 2017 premiership, probably along with the next five premierships too. The Giant’s footy manager, Wayne Campbell spoke of Deledio’s pay-cut to join GWS, stating that Deledio proved he was there “for the right reasons”.


“He understood that if he wants to be at a successful place towards the back end of his career, that he has to make a sacrifice, and he’s made a fair sacrifice” Wayne Campbell

Deledio leaving the Tigers after a decade of mediocrity set the scene for the Ewing Theory to take place. The Tigers added some new blood to the side; however, they were still favoured by most to just scrape into the finals as the best outcome. Another season in mediocrity the most likely result.

The Tigers’ magical 2017


Richmond Tigers alex rance all australian captain
Dustin Martin and Alex Rance were named All-Australians, with Rance named the captain.

What happened was the most memorable season in memory for the Tigers. Richmond won fifteen games and finished third the end of the home and away season. Dustin Martin is set to win the Brownlow in a weeks time, and Alex Rance was named All-Australian captain. The Tigers are playing exciting footy and are favourites to make their first Grand Final since 1982.  The spotlight of Brett Deledio left the Tigers, and the players are giving career-best seasons. Whether it be a changed role, or players facing their footy mortality, the Ewing effect worked its magic at Punt Road.


Gary Ablett Ewing Theory
Could losing Gary Ablett have a similar effect on the Gold Coast Suns next season?

What potential candidates are out there for the Ewing Theory

Are the 2017 Tigers stand-alone? Are there other Ewing Theory candidates? We look at other possible candidates for the Ewing Theory in the AFL.

  • Gary Ablett: The first candidate is an obvious one. Most believe that the Sun is the centre of the universe, although the Suns have revolved around Ablett since he stepped in the door. With an exit looking likely this off-season, perhaps the Gold Coast can turn their fortunes around.
  • Jesse Hogan (Early, I know): Hogan is a young stud. Let me say that first. Am I just jealous he doesn’t play for Carlton? Probably. Does Melbourne play better footy when Hogan isn’t playing? Definitely. It is no coincidence that Melbourne’s good form came when Hogan was out of the side. I believe so far it is a style of play situation rather than an Ewing Theory; however, it can evolve into one soon.
  • Bryce Gibbs: Gibbs came to Carlton as a highly recruited teenager who looked set to be the games next star. While he is a terrific player, Gibbs’ career has consistently not risen to the levels many hoped. There is talk (again) about Gibbs moving back to Adelaide; perhaps the Blues can surprise a few people next season.