As we are sure you know, the Madden NFL franchise is one of the most popular video games out there. It has been in that spot for just about 15 years. Everyone knows that the longer a franchise is around, the greater the chances are for controversy, and this franchise is no different. Rumors have been circulating around that there is a curse on the franchise. It says that whoever is the cover athlete that year for the Madden NFL game, they are doomed to a season of injury or ineffectiveness. That is certainly a bold claim, but the question is whether or not there is any truth to the matter. So let’s take a look at the series and see if there is any truth to this curse.
Prior to 1999, John Madden was on the cover of every game which seemed appropriate since his name is on the game. However, for the 1999 version of Madden NFL the executives at EA decided that a cover athlete should be chosen. Oddly enough, the American version of the game still featured John Madden but overseas the game had a cover athlete. This is where we begin our analysis.
1999 – Garrison Hearst – In 1998 Garrison Hearst ran for 1,570 yards and 7 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He was considered to be the third best running back in the league. More importantly than being the third best running back is the fact that he set a team record for yards during a season. Well he was a strong choice for the cover athlete spot and so EA announced that Hearst would be the new athlete for the 1999 PAL version of Madden NFL 99. During the 1999 season, the 49ers were playing the Atlanta Falcons during the divisional playoffs. Hearst was running and got his foot caught in the turf at the Georgia dome which caused a break in the ankle. Matters got worse when he tried to spin away from a defender on the same play and twisted it severely. Doctors said Hearst may never play again, but fortunately for him, he made it back to the NFL two years later but was never the same.
2000 – Dorsey Levens – This pick is definitely the most controversial Madden choice since Levens was a good player but not a great player. He was a great player about 3 years before his selection, but he was clearly on the downswing of his peak. Regardless of the fact, Levens was chosen as the Madden 2000 cover athlete for PAL regions as the US versions still featured John Madden. The 2000 season got underway, and Levens starting role for Green Bay dwindled quickly. He soon found himself in a reserve role for much of the season and by the next season he was released from him team. Coincidence?
2001 – Eddie George – In the 2000 season Eddie George ran for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Clearly George was a talented running back, and George was chosen for the 2001 cover athlete position this time he was to be the cover athlete for US versions of the game. During the 2001 season, Georges numbers declined quite a bit. His season totals were 939 yards and 5 touchdowns averaging 3 yards a carry. George also had the misfortune of bumbling a pass in the divisional round of the playoffs which led to an interception and a touchdown by the opposing team. Since that season, George never recovered from the season and was mostly ineffective the rest of his career.
2002 – Daunte Culpepper – Culpepper was an excellent quarterback and led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2000. However, in 2001 Culpepper started to experience some troubles by throwing 14 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. The Vikings finished the season 5-11. Culpepper started all 11 games in which he appeared, but he missed the final five games of the season with a knee injury. Despite his troubles, he was signed to be the cover athlete for 2002. What seemed to be a bright spot in a frustrating season, things just got worse for Culpepper in 2002. He had 18 touchdowns to 23 interceptions and lead the Vikings to a 6-10 record. He also set a record for the most fumbles in a single season.
2003 – Mashall Faulk – Faulk had a very good year in 2002 and ran for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Clearly Faulk deserved this honor and in 2003, Faulk was named cover athlete for the Madden franchise. Unfortunately, ineffectiveness hit Faulk in 2003, and Faulk had one of the worst years he ever had and finished the season with 953 yards and 8 touchdowns averaging 4.5 yards per carry. This started a trend for Faulk which led to one year being worst than the last. Loosing 30% of the yards, 33% of the touchdowns and almost a full yard lost per carry is a big dose of ineffectiveness.
2004 – Michael Vick – Vick was one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the league. His combined attack of running and passing made him a cornerstone for the Atlanta Falcons. He was an excellent choice, and it was made official in 2004. However, right after his appearance on the cover of the game, Vick suffered a fractured his right leg (fibula) and missed most of the season. Atlanta finished 5 -11 that season after being a perennial playoff contender.
2005 – Ray Lewis – Lewis was, and still is, the heart and soul of Baltimore’s defensive unit. He was one of the best linebackers in the league, and an interesting choice since most of the players up to that point were offensive players, more specifically quarterbacks and running backs. Lewis seemed impervious to the curse, but late in the season he sprained his wrist cutting the year short. He also failed to record an interception for the whole season, something that never happened to him before.
2006 – Donovan McNabb – This was at a time when the Eagles were at their prime and McNabb was running the ship efficiently. McNabb even brought the Eagles to the superbowl in 2005. It was an easy decision for EA to choose McNabb as their next cover athlete. That is when things started to take a turn for McNabb. McNabb made it about three quarters through the season when he jumped out of bounds and landed funny. At that point, he tore his ACL and the meniscus in his knee ending the rest of the season as well as part of the 2007 season.
2007 – Shaun Alexander – Everything seemed to be going well for Alexander. He just signed an 8 year 62 million dollar contract for the Seahawks which made him the highest paid running back in the league. He also helped take the Seahawks to the superbowl truly living up to his MVP potential. Then he was featured on the cover of Madden after already gracing the cover of NCAA 2001 and things took a turn for the worse. In week 3 of the regular season, Alexander broke his foot causing him to miss most of the season. His production also took a large dip because of the injury and never returned to form.
2008 – Vince Young – Young was a Probowl caliber player and one that would lead the Titans to many victories under his leadership. He was questioned about the curse, but he assured fans that he was going to be just fine. Unfortunately for Young, that was not the case. Though Young managed to avoid a season ending injury, he did suffer from several smaller injuries that led to missing a game in the season he was named cover athlete. In the season, where he was the reigning cover athlete he injured his knee and once he returned he was relegated to backup duty the rest of the season.
2009 – Brett Favre – Love him or hate him, Favre is one of the best quarterbacks of all time and his tenure as a Green Bay Packer is legendary. However, 2009 was an odd year for Favre. Having a long conversation with the Packers organization, they decide to part ways, and Favre was traded to the New York Jets. Things start well for Favre and the Jets until the end of the season when Favre threw several interceptions. He complained about shoulder pain, and after an MRI, he found out he torn his bicep tendons and that ended the season for him.
2010 – Larry Fitzgerald / Troy Polamalu – Both players were at the top of their game at the time, Fitzgerald being one of the best wide recievers in the game and Polamalu being one of the better linebackers in the game. This was the first time that two different athletes were featured on the cover. EA must have figured that this would end the curse. After all what is the chance that both players would get hurt? Well the chances were actually very good, but Polamalu got the worst of the curse. Polamalu suffered a sprained MCL at the beginning of the season keeping him out for 4 weeks. He came back and injured his PCL causing him to go on the disabled list yet again. Fitzgerald managed to go most of the season without ineffectiveness or injury, though at the end of the season Fitzgerald suffered a minor rib injury that caused him to miss the pro bowl that year.
2011 – Drew Brees – Brees was the superbowl MVP the year before so Brees was an obvious choice as cover athlete. Brees managed to stay injury free the entire season, but he did get a bout of ineffectiveness. His quarterback rating dropped 20 points, and he threw twice as many interceptions as Brees did the previous season. It was also discovered that Brees had torn his MCL, which wasn’t immediately admitted, but was later confirmed by Brees. It seems that the curse struck after all.
2012 – Peyton Hillis – This was the first time EA differed athlete selection to the fans, and after a nationwide vote, Peyton Hillis of the Cleveland Browns was victorious. He was an excellent choice posting great numbers for an average team, and Hillis was an overall hard worker. Things seemed to be going well, but the curse poked its head in and ruined the feel-good story. Hillis suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss five games, and miss another game with strep throat. He later reinjured the hamstring leading to more downtime. Since he missed so much time, the Browns gave Hillis some trouble with renewing his contract. Hillis decided to leave the organization, and Hillis signed with the Chiefs for the 2013 season. Contract years are certainly not a good time to experience a curse.
With all the evidence above it is hard to deny that there is a curse. We are sure it isn’t an actual curse, but when bad things happen over and over, and people start believing that supernatural things are happening, the psychological effects can be profound. Whether or not cover athletes had the curse in their mind while they were playing is only known by the athletes, but from an outside perspective, we have no choice but to proclaim that the curse is alive and well. Good luck Calvin Johnson, cover athlete of Madden 13, it seems like you are going to need it.