The 25th edition of the Madden NFL franchise hit shelves on Tuesday, and the focus has once again shifted from gameplay to the now-infamous curse that follows the player adorning the front cover of the game.
The belief is that the curse started with former San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst in 1999 and has affected every player to grace the cover since in one way or another.
While players shrug off the curse as superstition every season, the consistency of the damage it does to a career is undeniable.
A quarter century in, it only makes sense for fans of the most popular sports video-game series in history to look back on all the careers ravaged by the curse.
Garrison Hearst, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Injury: Broken Ankle
Garrison Hearst was one of the best running backs in the NFL in 1998, dominating the NFL to the tune of 1,570 rushing yards, 535 receiving yards and nine combined touchdowns, and the Madden curse was eagerly awaiting its first victim.
After being awarded the honor of appearing on the front cover of Madden 1999, Hearst broke his ankle on the first play from scrimmage during the divisional playoffs and missed all of the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
While the veteran did win the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2001, the curse had already been unleashed.
Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Injury: Broken Fibula
Michael Vick’s video-game doppelganger in Madden 2004 was one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. While the dual-threat QB dominated in the game, his 2003 season was marred by injuries and subpar play.
Vick broke his fibula in a preseason game just days after the video game was released, and he missed 11 games. While he was able to return for the final five meetings on the team’s schedule, Atlanta finished the season 5–11.
The Madden curse had struck again.
Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Injury: Torn ACL
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had been one of the best QBs in the league for several seasons when he earned the honor of being on the Madden cover in 2005.
Not only was McNabb's season cut short after aggravating a sports hernia, but he was also knocked out for the final six games the following year after tearing his ACL.
The Eagles played well in 2006 without their top QB, winning in the Wild Card Round, but the Madden curse ensured that McNabb couldn't take part.
Other Stars Bitten by the Madden Injury Bug: Vince Young, Troy Polamalu, Peyton Hillis
Daunte Culpepper, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Most fans were expecting a huge season from Minnesota Vikings star quarterback Daunte Culpepper after he made the Madden 2002 cover, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Instead of reaching the 33-touchdown plateau that he had in 2000, the veteran amassed only 14 touchdown passes in 16 games, throwing 13 interceptions and fumbling 16 times.
Add in the seven fumbles lost, and this was a major statistical drop-off for Culpepper brought on by the Madden curse.
Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams
Marshall Faulk is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, but after appearing on the cover of Madden 2003, the legend was never the same again.
The St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts star only managed to start 10 games that season while dealing with a nagging ankle injury and amassing just 953 yards on the ground. Factor in the 537 receiving yards from the former 1,000-yard receiver, and he was a shell of the player that had been the focus of the Greatest Show on Turf.
For a running back with seven 1,000-yard-rushing seasons, only Father Time and the Madden curse could hold Faulk back.
Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks
When Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander set the NFL single-season record (2005) for rushing and receiving touchdowns (28) and earned the honor to be featured on Madden 07, there was nothing that could stop him from replicating those numbers and disproving the curse.
Instead of following up his amazing season with an even better campaign, Alexander fractured his foot and totaled just 896 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games.
Alexander was supposed to be the player that bucked the trend, but the curse proved once again that it doesn't discriminate.
Other Stars Who Suffered a Drop in Production: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Ray Lewis, Dorsey Levens
When legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders won the fan vote to grace the cover of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, the Madden franchise was afforded the unique opportunity to buck the trend forever.
Instead of showcasing current players, EA Sports decided to use the front cover to honor NFL legends.
Not only would the Madden curse be rendered useless against players who are already retired, but the fact that a new generation of fans will also be turned on to the stars of yesteryear is the perfect way to incorporate a history lesson into every edition of the series.
EA Sports has already offered fans a chance to vote their favorite players onto the cover, so instead of populating the field with current stars, why not do it with Hall of Famers?
Who wouldn’t want to see legends like Jerry Rice or Walter Payton on the cover of a Madden game?
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the current NFL superstar featured on the Madden 25 cover for the Xbox One and PS4 editions of the game, and the questions concerning whether the curse will affect him are already running rampant.
Peterson had one of the greatest statistical seasons of all time last year, despite coming off devastating ACL injury. The physical freak made a complete recovery in nine months after undergoing surgery, and there is nothing the curse will do to stop him in 2013.
Just as wide receiver Calvin Johnson snubbed the Madden curse by dominating last season for the Detroit Lions, Peterson is too strong and too committed to keeping his body healthy to believe the hype.
While the Vikings star’s numbers may drop, it’s only because a repeat performance of 2,097 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns has never been done. However, if anyone can go against the grain, it would be a beast like Peterson.