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Opinion

‘Madden Curse’ still wreaks havoc on cover athletes of popular game

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November 11, 2011

Even the casual football fan probably knows about the “Madden Curse.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this curse: since 1999 the Madden Franchise, run by EA Sports, has featured one of the top players in the NFL. Every year, whichever player has adorned the cover has befallen some sort of injury or dramatic decline in performance that season. Is the “Madden Curse” real? Let’s delve in and find out.

In 1999, San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst became the first player to appear on the cover. In the divisional round of the playoffs that season against the Atlanta Falcons, Hearst suffered a broken ankle, which kept him sidelined from football for two entire seasons. Since he came back from the injury in 2001, Hearst never came close to the stats he had put up in 1998 and was ultimately out of football after the 2004 season.

For the 2000 installment of Madden, Barry Sanders was picked to be the cover athlete. Some may argue this is where the Madden Curse began, despite the injury to Hearst. Before the season began, Sanders retired from football leaving the video game with no cover athlete. Quickly, EA Sports picked Dorsey Levens of the Green Bay Packers to be the cover athlete. Levens’ season was shorted to five games due to an injury he suffered in the preseason, which eventually ended his season after a loss in Miami. Levens would never again start more than five games in a season or score more than four touchdowns in a year.

In 2001, Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George was the cover athlete. While George did not get injured during the season, he made many costly mistakes, including a late fumble, in a playoff loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens. After this season, George would never average more than 3.3 yards per carry in a season or score more than five touchdowns in a season again.

In 2002, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper appeared on the cover. In the 2000-2001 season Culpepper had his second best season ever as a professional quarterback. The year he adorned the cover of Madden, Culpepper threw 23 interceptions and set the Nflrecord for fumbles as well. Three years later Culpepper blew out both knees, effectively ending his career as an Nflquarterback.

In 2003, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk appeared on the cover. That year Faulk failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Faulk’s yards per carry also dropped over a yard during the season. A mere two years later, Faulk was out of football.

In 2004, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was the featured athlete. In the second pre-season game, Vick broke his fibula against the Baltimore Ravens, which caused him to miss 13 regular season games. A year later Vick was found guilty of running a dog fighting ring and was sent to prison.

In 2005, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis became the first defensive player to be on the cover of Madden. Lewis missed the final three games of the season after suffering a wrist injury late in the year. In addition, this season remains Lewis’ only season in which he did not tally an interception.

In 2006, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was featured on the cover. In the first game of the season, McNabb suffered a sports hernia. Despite the injury, McNabb continued to play the season. That is until he tore both his ACL and meniscus in a game against the Titans. This was the first time in five seasons that McNabb and the Eagles failed to reach the NFC Championship Game.

In 2007, Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander was on the cover. Alexander suffered a fractured foot, causing him to miss six games. A year later, Alexander broke his wrist in the opening game and was released at the end of the season.

In 2008, Titans quarterback Vince Young was the feature athlete. Young injured his knee early in the season. The next year, Young injured the knee again. This time Young was nowhere to be found leading some to believe he was contemplating suicide. Young is currently the third-string quarterback for the Eagles.

In 2009, it looked like EA Sports had the curse beat. Freshly retired Brett Favre was named the cover athlete. However, Favre returned to football and tore a bicep in his arm. The Jets finished the season in a tailspin and missed the playoffs. Favre retired again, temporarily, at the end of the season.

In 2010, Madden featured two cover athletes, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Larry Fitzgerald, of the Cardinals. Polamalu injured his MCL and was limited to four starts all season. The Steelers missed the playoffs. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, broke a rib during the season. However, Fitzgerald did not miss any games due to the injury. Many consider Fitzgerald to be the only “survivor” of the curse.

In 2011, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the cover athlete. Brees played the second half of the season on a torn MCL. He also set a career record for interceptions and saw his quarterback rating drop 20 points.

This season features Peyton Hillis on the cover. Hillis has missed half the season due to a hamstring injury and illness. The Cleveland Browns have stated that they have no problem releasing Hillis after the season.

The “Madden Curse” has stricken every athlete that has adorned the cover of the game. LaDanian Tomlinson, Nflrunning back, refused to be on the cover for fear of getting an injury. While many players get injured every Nflseason; it seems like more than coincidence that every cover athlete has had something bad happen to them. The curse lives on.

Benjamin Lamers is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during fall semester 2013.