>Thursday Lunch: The Madden Curse

Posted: November 18, 2010 in nfl
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By Nick Gallaudet

When I was a kid, I remember being at the store with my dad when something caught his eye. Like me, my dad loves football, and it was his love of football that was about to catapult me into a wealth of childhood memories. The gem we found was John Madden Football for the Super Nintendo. I had never played a video game before, but that day, my dad bought me the console and the game, and we would play against each other for hours. Ever since then, I have been all about sports video games and it wasn’t long until the rest of the world caught up. Here we are, over 20 years later, and Madden has become the ninth biggest video game franchise in the world and sells millions of copies every year. However, its popularity is not the only thing that makes the game famous. Ever since the Madden franchise began putting players on its cover, there has been talk of the Madden Curse. Similar to the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, the legend is that any player on the cover of the game is destined to have a terrible season. I am here, boys and girls, to look into the validity of this myth and examine every player ever featured on a Madden cover and prove, once and for all, whether the Madden Cover Curse is fact or fiction.

99_Hearst_fullsizeMadden 1999 (released July, 1998) was the first to feature a player rather than John Madden himself. Most versions had the rosy-cheeked John Madden on the cover, but a select few featured San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst. Hearst’s 1997 season was good, not great, totaling over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and six total TDs, making him a curious selection for the cover. The season he was featured on the cover, Hearst had the best season of his career, rushing for 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 535 yards and two touchdowns receiving. Those numbers make it seem as though the Curse was nonexistent, but the cover would announce its presence in the playoffs. On the first play from scrimmage in San Francisco’s Divisional playoff against the Atlanta Falcons, Hearst broke his ankle, which sidelined him for the next two seasons. The cover had claimed its first victim, and it was devastating, as Hearst suffered complications after surgery and was never the same player.

 

imageMadden 2000 (released August, 1999) was also somewhat confusing as far as the cover. John Madden himself was the prominent figure on the majority of the editions, but on that cover was a somewhat blurry, yet recognizable, background photo of Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders who famously retired before the 1999 season at the age of 31, despite being in striking distance of the all-time rushing yardage record. Other versions featured Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens. Levens was another peculiar selection for the cover, as he suffered a knee injury the season prior, but he was selected nonetheless. The season Levens was on the cover was respectable, totaling over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and ten touchdowns. However, hampered by the nagging knee injury, Levens wasn’t able to perform up to previous standards, and as a result, the Packers finished 8-8, missing the playoffs in what ended up being Levens last season as a feature back in the NFL. One could argue that in two seasons, Madden was responsible for the end of three careers.

 

File:Madden NFL 2001 Coverart.pngMadden 2001 (released August 2000) tallied the first win for the players…kinda. Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George graced the cover for this installment of Madden, coming off four straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, and George continued his production. In 2000, George had the best season of his career, totaling over 1,900 total yards and 16 touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end, however, as George’s production declined quickly after that season, playing only three more full seasons in the NFL. While nothing bad happened to George, during the 2000 regular season (he bobbled a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the Titans playoff loss to the Ravens that postseason), he carried the ball over 400 times and many attribute that intense workload to his quick decline.

 

Madden_NFL_2002_CoverartMadden 2002 (released August 2001) Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper brought his talents to the Madden cover. During the 2000 season, Culpepper took the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in only his first year as a starting quarterback, passing for 33 touchdowns and rushing for another seven. In 2001, Culpepper struggled early, throwing 13 interceptions in the first 11 games, and only 14 touchdowns. On top of his poor performance, Culpepper suffered a knee injury and missed the last five games of the season as the Vikings limped to a 5-11 record. Culpepper recovered to have a couple more decent seasons with the Vikings, but eventually bounced around to various teams, landing in the UFL with the Sacramento Mountain Lions. This was the first time the Cover Curse struck harshly during the regular season, and the Curse’s began to generate momentum.

 

Madden 2003 (released August 2002) featured St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, who was coming off one of the best four year stretches for a running back ever, with four straight years of over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and at least ten touchdowns, and over 20 touchdowns twice. Faulk was poised to debunk the Madden myth with the Greatest Show on Turf, but Faulk only managed ten starts and wasn’t able to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark rushing for only the second time in his career. Faulk’s 2002 season was the beginning of the end for him, as he wouldn’t break 1,000 yards rushing again and eventually had to split touches with Steven Jackson. Faulk’s precipitous decline began the year he was on the Madden cover, scoring another victim for the infamous video game.

 

Madden 2004 (released August 2003) featured Mr. Bad Newz Kennelz himself: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was the poster boy for this edition of Madden. 2002 was Vick’s first full season as a starting quarterback, a season in which he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and led the Falcons to an improbable run to the NFC Championship game. The season he was featured on the cover, however, started with a broken fibula before the regular season opener, causing Vick to miss the first 11 games of the season. Vick bounced back and had a couple more good years in Atlanta, and we all know what happened after that. Now, I’m not saying the fact that he was on the cover of Madden landed him in jail, but it probably didn’t help.Madden2004box

 

Madden 2005 (released August 2004) had Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on its cover. It is tougher to quantify a defensive player’s performance, especially a guy who is so famous for his intangibles, but there are a couple things that stood out from Lewis’ 2004 season. Lewis was awarded AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2003, amassing six interceptions along the way. In 2004, Lewis failed to record an interception for the first time in his career. He was also injured for the last game of the season as he watched his team go 9-7 and just miss the playoffs. On top of all of that, Lewis tore his hamstring the following season and missed ten games as the Ravens posted a 6-10 record.

 

Madden 2006 (released August 2005) sported Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb on the cover. Fresh off his Super Bowl run, McNabb had the audacity to challenge the curse, saying, “it might be a trend, but I don’t believe in the Curse at all.” The Curse wasted no time, hitting McNabb with a sports hernia in the first game. The hernia hampered him until he eventually shut it down and got surgery, missing the final seven games of the season. The Eagles finished last in the NFC East that season, and was the first time in six years that the Eagles didn’t make the playoffs.

 

Madden 2007 (released August 2006) played host to record setting Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. Alexander scored 27 rushing touchdowns the year before, a single season record, so the Curse hit him with a two-pronged attack. Alexander broke his foot during the 2006 season and missed six weeks, but that wasn’t all. That season, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson broke Alexander’s single season touchdown record, so not only did the Curse take Alexander out, it took down his record as well.

 

Madden_NFL_08_CoverartMadden 2008 (released August 2007) featured Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, and Young was the victim of one of the cruelest Curse manifestations yet. After a decent rookie season, Young failed to live up to expectations. In his 2007 season, he threw 17 interceptions against only nine touchdowns; although the Titans did make the playoffs, only to lose in the first round while posting a dismal 53.5 passer rating. The interesting stuff happened the next season, though. Young was injured early in the 2008 season and was replaced by backup Kerry Collins, and this led to Young disappearing for a brief time and battling depression.

 

 

Madden_NFL_09_CoverartMadden 2009 (released August 2008) had Green Bay Packers/New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre on the cover. Favre was announced to be the cover athlete after he had retired…the first time, and he angered the Curse by announcing he was returning days before Madden was released, to a different team than how he is represented on the Madden cover. Favre had a very good season in 2007, and was one interception away from a berth in the Super Bowl, but by coming back, he subjected himself to misery. His season with the Jets started nicely, with a six-touchdown game and fast start, but about halfway through the season, Favre’s performance declined and the Jets missed the playoffs as Favre posted 22 interceptions. It later came out that Favre played with a torn biceps muscle, and we all know what happened after that. The Curse exacted revenge in the form of another devastating NFC Championship game pick and then eventually the Jenn Sterger scandal. Needless to say the, Curse had its way with Favre.

 

Madden10_Xbox360Madden 2010 (released August 2009) tried to throw a curveball to the Curse by having two cover athletes, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. The Cardinals and the Steelers faced off in the previous year’s Super Bowl, and both players were coming off tremendous seasons. The Curse managed to foul off this curveball, dealing a knee injury to Polamalu in the season opener. Polamalu came back later in the season, only to reinjure himself, as the Steelers missed the playoffs. Fitzgerald fared a little better, posting 13 receiving touchdowns, but barely eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark, and was able to make it to the second round of the playoffs; but the Curse saved its surprise for Fitzgerald for the offseason. Fitzgerald’s outstanding quarterback Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season and stuck him with Max Hall and Derek Anderson for the 2010 season.

 

Madden 2011 (released August 2010) featured Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees on its cover. The curse looked like it was off to a good start as Brees and the Saints stumbled out of the gate, but they seem to have recovered. The jury is certainly still out as far as Brees’ response to the curse, but the notoriously accurate QB is third in the NFL in interceptions for the 2010 season, so we’ll see where that goes.Madden_11_Drew_Brees_cover

 

So, now that we’ve covered all the Madden cover boys, it’s time for a little analysis. Is the Curse fact or fiction? It’s clear that the Curse had its way with a couple of the cover athletes but could it simply be that they were ripe for a letdown. Almost all of the cover athletes were put on the cover after career years, and they’re called career years for a reason. There was only one way for these athletes to go, and that was down, so it’s not really surprising that their level of play decreased, and injuries are fairly common in the NFL, so that could explain that as well. However, there is no denying the severity of the Curse. Michael Vick was put in prison, Garrison Hearst, Dorsey Levens, Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, and Shaun Alexander had their careers derailed by the Curse, and Brett Favre showed the whole world his footballs. You can choose to think of it as coincidence, but am I a believer? I have to be honest, I avoided Brees in my fantasy drafts this year because he was on the cover of Madden…

 

Stats from pro-football-reference.com

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