After making a spectacular, one-handed interception off of Tennessee Titans quarterback Kerry Collins quite far into Pittsburgh Steelers' territory, what the long-maned, Head-and-Shoulders spokesman was going to do next to top that spectacular, YouTube-worthy grab was the question.
Yet, in the ensuing moments, you did not expect anything ominous.
Late into the second quarter of the 2009 NFL kickoff game last Thursday night between the defending Super Bowl XLIII (43) champs Steelers and Titans though, All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu injured the left MCL (medial collateral ligament) in his knee. Polamalu never returned after Titans tight end Alge Crumpler inadvertently fell on his knee, as both Titans and Steelers tried frantically to recover Titans placekicker Rob Bironas' 31-yard, blocked field goal attempt.
The x-rays from the Steelers medical team revealed that Polamalu's MCL injury was a sprain, which means that the team's star defensive back may be sidelined from three to up to six weeks.
(The team's notorious defense, ranked second overall last year, fared well in Polamalu's absence, and kept the team's chances of being embarrassed at home in a nationally televised game very remote: Pittsburgh beat Tennessee--thanks also in part to the double-pump chicanery of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, WR Santonio Holmes and a 33-yard, game-winning field goal by K Jeff Reed--13-10.)
But the former USC Trojan has definitely been the cog of the Steelers' secondary/defense since being drafted by Pittsburgh in 2003.
His 40-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 AFC Championship game--just one example of his energy, acrobatic skills, exceptional defensive acuity and influence as team leader, captain--sparked the team to its seventh Super Bowl appearance overall, and its eventual Super Bowl title No. 6.
More importantly, this goes into question as to whether the injury he suffered was the latest example of the infamous "Madden Curse"--one in which a player who has graced the cover of the video game becomes a non-factor or is injured during the pre-, regular or postseason of that same year.
Case in point: In 2004, the first true year that former NFL head coach and commentator John Madden no longer posted his mug on his eponymous game's cover, former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick's was.
(From 1999-2002, an NFL player appeared on the cover of the video game, along with a smaller, passport-like photo of Madden in the top right corner. The results were the same though: Running back Garrison Hearst of the San Francisco 49ers, suffered a terrible ankle injury in the playoffs; sensational RB legend Barry Sanders retired before the 2000 season with the Detroit Lions; RB Eddie George's rushing numbers went down with the Titans in his "Maddening" year; QB Daunte Culpepper, back injury after 11th game with the Minnesota Vikings; and RB Marshall Faulk and the St. Louis Rams' Greatest Show on Turf took a step back with his recurring ankle problems.)
After a season in which he stunned Green Bay at Lambeau Field in an NFC divisional playoff and guided his Falcons to the NFC Championship game at the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick graced the cover for the 2003-04 season.
But that heraldry was cut short as he fractured his right fibula on a blind-sided tackle by a Baltimore Ravens defender in the preseason. As a result, he missed 11 games, and the Falcons did not make it to the playoffs, finishing 5-11.
The next year, perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis was featured on the Madden video game cover. Lewis suffered a season-ending hamstring injury, and the team never made it to the playoffs, either.
The following year Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb made the Madden cover, and suffered a season-ending ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury during the mid-point of the 2005-2006 season.
In 2007, 2008 and 2009, former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, current Tennessee Titans back-up quarterback Vince Young and current Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre (who was a Green Bay Packer at the time) were placed on the Madden cover, respectively. And in those three years, each suffered some form of injury, their respective teams did not do as well as in the previous seasons, or the team did not get far into the postseason.
Seeing that the Arizona Cardinals' all-pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald shares facetime with Polamalu on this year's Madden cover, is his goose cooked too? If not this opening Sunday against the 49ers at home, will any and every given Sunday be a day that Fitzgerald will live in infamy?
Let's hope not. Let's hope he can do like the Boston Red Sox, and erase a long-lasting curse.