Applying the "Ewing Theory" to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Maddie Meyer

Sometimes, when you lose, you gain. That's been the case in sports at times, including with the Steelers.

Losing your favorite player hurts, especially when it happens as a kid.

I'll never forget throwing my No.26 Rod Woodson jersey-the first jersey I ever owned- to the ground. It was just after hearing on ESPN that Woodson had signed with the 49ers after spending 10 Hall-of-Fame seasons in the Black and Gold.

Woodson went on to play eight more seasons and winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens (and playing in one more with the Raiders), while the Steelers secondary struggled trying to fill his void. That was one move the Steelers probably wished they could do over.

But more often than not, the Steelers have proved ESPN writer Bill Simmons' "Ewing Theory" correct. It means that a team does better without a star player than with him. The theory is based on the 1999 New York Knicks, who finished 27-23 as the eighth seed in the strike-shortened NBA season but wound up in the Finals that season without their Hall-of-Fame center.

The Steelers released Bam Morris in 1996 after the leading rusher in Super Bowl XXX was arrested for drug possession. The Steelers replaced Morris with Jerome Bettis, and we all know how that turned out.

Pro Bowler Chad Brown and solid corner back Willie Williams left for Seattle after the 1996 season. Pittsburgh won more games and finished just three points shy of the Super Bowl the following season, while Brown and Williams were never the same impact players.

The Steelers watched receivers Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Charles Johnson, and Andre Hastings leave town the years following Super Bowl XXX. While the losses temporarily hurt the development of Kordell Stewart, the Steelers were able to save money while drafting replacements in Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randel-El in the following seasons. Ward and Burress played a key role in Ben Roethlisberger's development during his rookie season, and Ranel-El filled Burress' void in 2005 as the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.

Pittsburgh let Randel-El cash in on his sensational Super Bowl run with the Washington Redskins. While the Steelers used that money to sign future Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, Randel-El never materialized into a No.1 receiver in Washington.

And Holmes? Pittsburgh parted ways with him after 2009 and replaced him with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh beat Holmes and the Jets in the 2010 AFC Championship, while Holmes has endured injuries and three straight disappointing seasons (I must confess that I feel like he would have been a huge difference maker in Super Bowl XLV).

The moral of this story is that the Steelers and the Rooney family normally make the right move when it comes to free agents, although it might not have been the most popular move at the time. Let's hope that during this free agency season, the Ewing Theory works in the Steelers favor again.

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