Madden Curse: How a Video Game Changed the Lives of Players in the NFL

Daniel KablackCorrespondent IIIMarch 12, 2012

Michael Vick is again in the running for Madden cover athlete
Michael Vick is again in the running for Madden cover athleteRob Carr/Getty Images

If you were to check the Facebook page of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick right now, you would find thousands of Vick fans screaming for him not to do it.

But what is it? Could Vick be leaving Philadelphia? Is Michael Vick retiring from football?

The answer: he’s up for re-election on the cover of the 2012 Madden NFL game.

Yes, what could be so bad about having one of you favorite players on the cover of your favorite video game?

Well, if you don’t know, you could ask almost any real NFL fan and they’d tell you.

It’s the Madden curse.

The Madden NFL video game series has become one of the most popular video game franchises worldwide having sold over 80 million copies since 1990 and nearly two million copies in its most recent opening week. It truly is one of the video games that will be around for years to come.

Initially created in the 1980s, the developers wanted a way to market the video game to the masses. They began by asking legendary Oakland Raiders coach John Madden to become the face of the video game franchise. He agreed but only if the game would be developed as realistically as possible. This led to years of research, programming and development until Madden officially put his name on the franchise.

The game was a huge success in the United States repeatedly making the bestselling video games list year after year throughout the late 80s and 1990s.

Peyton Hillis (2012) experienced the Madden curse immediately
Peyton Hillis (2012) experienced the Madden curse immediatelyRob Carr/Getty Images


Prior to 1999, each year’s rendition of Madden NFL was adorned with John Madden on the front cover.  In '99, developers decided to change the look by introducing a featured player on the front cover…and this is when the curse began.

The first NFL player to be featured on the Madden cover was the Tennessee Titan’s Eddie George in the 2001 edition (2000-01 season) of the video game. Despite not suffering a serious injury during his 2000-01 season, George did miss some playing time and his overall production for the team was sub-par compared to where it regularly was.

At the time, he had been on a streak eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the ground for the season every year for five years. This season he finished with only 939 yards and five touchdowns. After his Tennessee Titans lost in the playoffs due to a pass that George failed to catch, which led to an interception for a touchdown, he never averaged more than three and a half yards per carry for the rest of his career.

The 2002 edition of Madden featured Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper who had led his team to the playoffs just a year before. Culpepper’s 2001-02 season was absolutely a disaster after he threw 23 interceptions for the season and set the all-time NFL single season record for most fumbles by a single player, as his team finished with a 5-11 record.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk highlighted the front of the 2003 version of Madden only to end up missing two games due to injury and finishing with under 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in five seasons; his team missed the playoffs in the 2002-03 season with a 7-9 record only to bounce back the next year with a 12-4 record.

ST. LOUIS - NOVEMBER 10:  Running Back Marshall Faulk #28 of the St. Louis Rams is injured on the field during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at the Edward Jones Dome on November 10, 2002 in St. Louis, Missouri. The  Rams defeated the Charger
Elsa/Getty Images

Marshall Faulk never recorded another 1,000 yard rushing season and retired a few years later.

Michael Vick who was then with the Atlanta Falcons was placed on the cover of Madden 2004 after his spectacular 2002-03 season. Vick consequently ended up breaking his fibula in a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens and his team finished 5-11. After the conclusion of the season he was indicted on federal dog fighting charges and sent to prison.


In Madden 2005, Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis was featured and only ended up missing two games at the conclusion of the season with a sprained wrist; it was also the first time he had failed to record an interception during the season. The following season Lewis broke his leg and sat out most of the year.

Donovan McNabb got the call to be the face of the 2006 edition of Madden NFL in the early summer of 2005.  The season looked promising until McNabb tore his ACL while jumping out of bounds on a play against the Tennessee Titans. He missed the remainder of the season and eventually was traded by the Eagles a couple of years later, as his performance and faith dwindled.

In 2007, EA Sports decided to put the Seattle Seahawks running back Shawn Alexander on the cover. Alexander went on to break his foot and missed half the season just a year removed from setting the all-time NFL rushing touchdown record for a season.

Madden 2008 featured the up-and-coming Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young on its cover. Young had a decent season the year previous but ended up injuring his right leg, which led him to miss a game. He also finished with just nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions. His performance, injuries and issues with the coaching staff eventually led to his release a couple of seasons later by the Titans.

Donovan McNabb tears ACL against Titans
Donovan McNabb tears ACL against TitansAl Bello/Getty Images

The NFL’s golden boy Brett Favre was featured on the front cover of the 2009 edition of Madden NFL. Favre had just come back out of retirement and was traded from the Packers to the New York Jets. Favre started out fine leading his team to an 8-3 record, but eventually the magic was lost, as the Jets lost four out of the next five games, and Favre became part of a sexual-harassment scandal.

The Jets missed the playoffs, and Favre re-retired.

Madden 2010 was the first year to feature two NFL players as cover athletes, the Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu and the Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald. Polamalu sprained his MCL in the Steelers’ season opener and missed four games. He returned in midseason only to tear his PCL and missed most of the rest of the season. Larry Fitzgerald did not suffer any serious setbacks.

Madden NFL 11 featured New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees who had led the Saints to a Super Bowl win the year before. Brees' performance suffered throughout much of the season, and his team ultimately lost in the playoffs to a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team. At the end of the season, Brees confirmed that he had played most of the year with a torn MCL.

In summer of 2011, EA Sports decided to get fans more involved by allowing them to vote on who the cover athlete would be for Madden NFL 12. After weeks of voting by fans, the two semifinalists were Michael Vick and Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis who had a spectacular season just a year before.

Ultimately, Hillis was selected by fans to be featured on the cover of the 2011-12 version of the Madden series. As a result, Hillis injured his hamstring at the beginning of the year, missed five games, tried to return, re-injured his hamstring and was limited in play time ever since. Ultimately, he was released by the Cleveland Browns at the end of the season.

This year’s athletes have a lot to worry about if they’re in the running to be voted onto the cover of the most popular sports video game franchise in history.

Is the curse real?

You can decide that for yourself, but already fans have begun campaigns to stop their favorite athletes from even thinking about getting their name into the voting tournament that precedes the naming of the new cover boy.

The reality is, whether or not you are superstitious, something very strange is happening to athletes who are placed on that video game cover.

At this point, if I was a professional athlete, I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.


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