It’s a high honor to be on the cover of the latest EA Sports Madden NFL game. But does it come at a price?
Football season is here, and for some this is a time of joy. Thousands, if not millions, of die-hard football fans are preparing for their yearly fantasy football drafts. If you’ve never been to one, just imagine ten-to-fifteen total football dorks with stacks of notepads and draft magazines surrounding them as they struggle with the option of picking another running back over a wide receiver with their second-round pick. For the gamers in the room, there is certainly one player that they will at least think twice about selecting, if not avoiding them completely. Ask any superstitious football fan out there, and they will tell you that Shaun Alexander is a doomed pick for fantasy this year.The reason you ask? Why, he’s on this year’s cover of Madden NFL Football. While it is an obvious honor to players when selected, previous players have met with either injury or poor seasons after appearing as the cover-boy of EA’s flagship sporting series. From Eddie George to Donovan McNabb, the Madden Curse has touched each and every one of their careers. If you don’t believe me, I have presented the facts below. It may be nothing but superstition, but I know there are plenty of people out there that don’t believe in coincidences.
Madden 2001: Eddie GeorgeIt has been fabled that the Madden Curse began the year before with Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders. Seen in a silhouette behind John himself on the cover of the previous Madden avoiding a Chicago Bear defender, it is said that Mr. Sanders’ early retirement from the sport angered the Football Gods. The curse begins on a small scale with Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, whose team narrowly lost to the St. Lois Rams in the previous year’s Super Bowl. EA will point to Mr. George’s year as proof against the curse, but the superstitious will point to his bobbled pass against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs for support. Ray Lewis returned that interception for a touchdown and Baltimore knocked Tennessee out of the playoffs.
What would become of Eddie George you ask? The next year would find George, hailed as one of the most durable running backs in the game, plagued by a drop in production due to a nagging injury during the next season. From then on, he averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry, where before he was around or above the 4.5 mark prior. He lost his starting job in Tennessee and moved to Dallas, where he was cut in 2005 after a single year with the Cowboys. He was last seen on G4 doing a gaming/sports hybrid show called Training Camp and he has other off-field restaurant ventures as well. His football career only went downhill after his season on the cover of Madden.
Madden 2002: Daunte CulpepperIn 2000, Daunte Culpepper was a shooting star in Minnesota by being named starter and then winning his first seven games at quarterback. He passed for nearly 4000 yards and 33 touchdowns with only 16 interceptions, but also ran for another seven touchdowns while covering more than 450 yards on the ground. His huge linebacker-like physique and speed made him a threat on every play, and he led his team to the NFC Championship during an 11-5 season. As a reward for an excellent season, he was featured on the cover of Madden in 2001.
During the 2001 season, though, Culpepper’s season was a complete 180 from the year before. After posting a record of 4-7 as starting QB, he was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury. His team missed the playoffs after having nearly made it to the Super Bowl only a year prior. In 2002, Culpepper posted the worst passer rating of his career with 23 interceptions and only 18 touchdowns. In 2004, Daunte posted career numbers that would have earned him the MVP trophy during any other year, but it was unfortunately the year that Peyton Manning set the single-season touchdown record with 49. Culpepper’s bout with the curse may be over, but fans are eager to see what he does in his new home down in Miami with the Dolphins.
Madden 2003: Marshall FaulkPerhaps the greatest piece of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” Marshall Faulk was selected for the cover of Madden 2002 after his St. Louis Rams made it to the Super Bowl, losing in the last seconds on an Adam Vinitari field goal. Faulk was the APs Offensive Player of the Year for his versatility as a running back and receiver. Marshall Faulk, was, and is, a shoe-in for the Hall-of-Fame.
2002 marked the slow beginning of the end for Faulk’s career. After appearing on the cover of Madden, his production was lessened considerably. He also suffered an ankle sprain and was sidelined for six games. Faulk failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in seven seasons, ending his reign as the most potent offensive weapon in the league. The Rams, realizing Faulk’s age and increasing injury issues, drafted Steven Jackson to succeed him. Knee and ankle problems kept Faulk from his MVP-form for the remainder of his career. After failing to recover fully from knee surgery this past off-season, Faulk is questionable to return to playing football after the 2006 season, and has taken a position as an analyst with the NFL Network for this year. Aging, and not the Madden Curse, could be the demise of Faulk’s career, but the compiling list of ruined seasons is too hard to ignore.
Madden 2004: Michael VickWho doesn’t remember the circus show that was Michael Vick during his first year as starter of the Atlanta Falcons? He made defenders look like highschool players on the field, outrunning the fastest linebackers and defensive linemen with ease. Even better was the outrageous over-time run that he had against the Minnesota Vikings, where he ran almost the length of the field, weaving through defenders as they ran into themselves. Teams scrambled to find an answer for Vick during the next off-season when he led his Falcons to an upset of the Green Bay Packers at in Green Bay in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Madden Curse struck in the preseason game against the Ravens. Vick, while scrambling for yards, was tackled oddly and suffered a broken leg. Fantasy nerds nation-wide began sobbing as they saw their hopes and dreams being carted off the field. The Atlanta Falcons had an abysmal 5-11, though they won three of their last four games when Vick finally returned to the field. Soon, Vick began hearing criticism about his tendency to flee the pocket. Some said that he didn’t have the pocket-precense of a true NFL QB, when all he heard before was praise for his awesome athleticism. Vick marked the Madden Curse’s debut into the public eye, and popular programs on ESPN even started discussing the curse after Vick’s season.
Madden 2005: Ray LewisThe Madden franchise made its big move to defense in 2004, offering more control of the defensive players on the field, as well as enhanced defensive AI scripts to help curb the high scoring achieved in previous titles. To help empahisize these enhancements, EA chose Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis for the Madden 2005 cover. Lewis was, and still is, revered as one of the top two or three most dominant linebackers in the game today. In 2003, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, making him the perfect choice.
The Football Gods must have smiled at EA’s choice, as Lewis has suffered the least after gracing Madden’s cover. In trying to refute the Curse, doubters always point to Ray Lewis as proof. I offer the theory that defensive players are exempt from the curse. Again, based solely in goofy football superstition, it is my belief that any future defensive player would also be protected from the curse. Lewis wasn’t completely immune, however. His team failed to make the playoffs after having won the division the year before, while he himself was injured in 2005 for a majority of the season.
Madden 2006: Donovan McNabbThe year’s absence of the Curse lulled football fans into a false sense of security. Donovan McNabb took his team to the Super Bowl after three straight losses in the NFC Championship. While there were some rumblings during the regular season, the return of Terrell Owens for the Super Bowl enabled the Eagles to keep it close against the Patriots, but another Adam Vinitari field goal sealed a victory for New England. The 2005 Season would be an utter nightmare for McNabb and Philadelphia.
Terrell Owens would begin a series of media outlashes against McNabb and the Eagles before the start of the 2005 preseason. After agreeing to cooperate, Owens was still a major distraction for the team the entire season, forcing legal arbitrators to rule in favor of management’s decision to sit the disgruntled receiver on the sidelines. Worse than this was McNabb’s constant bout with injury as he suffered a “sports hernia” in the opening game of the season. His injuries finally sidelined him during the mid-season game against division-rival Dallas, and McNabb decided to sideline himself and undergo season-ending surgery. To add insult to injury, McNabb was even accused of “playing the race-card” by Philadelphia NCAA president Jerry Mondesire in December. The NCAA quickly offered an apology. McNabb’s bout with the Madden Curse left him injured and questioned in his own locker room.
Madden 2007: Shaun AlexanderLast year marked the fifth season ravaged by the Madden Curse if you ignore 2004 and Ray Lewis. Believers of the curse may already be discounting Shaun Alexander’s chances as two of his starting blockers on the left side of the offensive line are gone. While he may still have fullback Mack Strong, it is doubtful that he repeats his record-breaking season this year. Along with the Madden Curse, Seattle must also contend with another modern curse. Since Super Bowl XXXV (35) and the New York Giants, no team that has lost in the NFL Championship has returned to the playoffs the following season. Listen, I’m not saying that Shaun Alexander is a marked man, but I am saying that the Curse has tagged cover-athletes before, and there’s no way I am risking my fantasy success with that in mind by picking him in my draft.
Update - Shaun Alexander broke his left foot. It's still alive!
Madden 2008:Vince Young
Vince Young - LaDainian Tomlinson fears the curse and passes at his chance for the cover. Vince Young steps up and injures his right quadriceps, missing his first game due to injury during his entire football career, including high school and college.
Madden 2009:Brett Favre
With all this eerie evidence beginning to stack up, many people think that Madden 2009's cover athlete, Brett Favre, is doomed to become yet another victim of this long-running curse. The fact that Favre is ancient (in football years) helps to further people's beliefs in his seemingly inevitable victimization. Little do many realize, Favre is a cagey old veteran with more than a few tricks left up his sleeve!
While many will point at Favre's ridiculous offseason antics - coming out of retirement and being traded to the New York Jets - as furthering the curse for yet another year, I believe it is quite the opposite. To me it seems more like Favre has begun a preemptive strike against the franchise, changing teams and jerseys right before Madden 2009 hits store shelves. Effectively reversing the curse back at the football series, Favre has forced EA to create a patch to place the QB on the Jets' roster and offer a downloadable cover that pictures him in his, now current, Jets uniform.
Perhaps with all the issues Favre is causing for the Madden series, the curse will be too busy trying to keep up to adversely affect the historic athlete. Either way, he deserves to be commended for his attempt to end the curse and I hope he has a great, injury free season.
Note: I have since given up playing Madden, so I'll let the curse be for now... Until I have the mood to test the universal balance that is the Madden Curse!