The Madden Football series has been one of the most influential sporting games in the history of video games. But does this video game juggernaut contain some type of voodoo magic?
For years now, the question has been asked: Is the cover athlete for Madden Football doomed to be cursed?
Many people are skeptical. Football is a contact sport, after all. Injuries happen all the time. Its not odd to see a superstar miss time some time due to an injury, especially late in the season if a team has no chance of making the playoffs or already has a spot locked up.
But can we explain the players that have down years? Players age and don't perform as well in their 30's as they did in their prime. Some guys may have off the field problems that affect their performance as well.
But can these "excuses" be used to dismiss the Madden Curse? Let's find out.
2000 - Barry Sanders/Dorsey Levens
This was the last year when Madden was on the cover. With him was a picture of Barry Sanders in the background. But Sanders retired before the 1999 season began, ending one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
Dorsey Levens appeared on later versions of the cover. Levens did have a good year, totaling over 1600 yards from scrimmage and scoring 10 touchdowns. He did miss two games and the Packers failed to make the playoffs, finishing 3rd in the NFC Central. He also missed 11 games the following year and barely seeing the field in 2001. Levens was reduced to stealing carries from Giant and Eagle running backs for the last three years of his career.
2001 - Eddie George
George graced the cover for the 2001 installment of Madden. George, like Levens, had a pretty successful campaign that year. George made his only All-Pro Team that year and helped Tennessee to a 13-3 record, only to be stomped out by Baltimore in the playoffs. George did carry the ball over 400 times and his body took a beating.
George remained a workhorse for three more years in Tennessee before heading to Dallas for his final year. But we must beg the question, did that one great year cause the downhill slope his career saw?
2002 - Daunte Culpepper
Culpepper had a great sophomore campaign in 2000, earning him a spot on the Madden 2002 cover. This time the curse doesn't wait to strike after the athelte's cover year. Culpepper struggles and leads the Vikings to a woeful 4-7 record. He also suffers a knee injury and is forced to miss five games.
Even before he went down with his injury, Culpepper and the high-powered Vikings offense (which included HOF WR Chris Carter, stud WR Randy Moss, and a solid RB in Robert Smith) struggled mightily. He ended the year throwing for 14 TDs, 13 INTs, and getting sacked 33 times.
2003 - Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk was one of the key pieces for "The Greatest Show on Turf." In 2002, he became an audience member. Faulk struggled through the season with ankle problems, missing two games and being forced to miss four starts. Faulk also failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 1996. Faulk never managed to top the 1,000 yard plateau again and retired in 2005.
2004 - Michael Vick
Vick was an up and coming star in the league when he was chosen to be on the Madden 2004 cover. A young quarterback who had a rocket and could run for days. But in a preseason game, Vick broke his leg and missed significant time. All together, Vick missed 11 total games and did little to help save the Falcons season. We all know where Vick ended up two years after the Madden cover.
2005 - Ray Lewis
The 2005 version of Madden introduced some firsts for the series. It was the first time defense was "really" emphasized with the addition of the Hit Stick and the first time a defensive player was placed on the cover. It's hard to make a case for Lewis being cursed that year.
It was the first time in his career he did not record an interception and he did miss one game because of a wrist injury, but that's about it. Ray-Ray did however miss significant time the following year.
2006 - Donovan McNabb
2006 was the first year for Madden to be put onto the Next-Generation consoles (XBOX 360 and Playstation 3). Donovan McNabb was chosen as the cover athlete. McNabb failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in five years. He also had a sports hernia injury that forced him to miss seven games. McNabb was having a fairly good season, but nowhere close to what he had been accomplishing. He has not made a Pro Bowl since.
2007 - Shaun Alexander
Following his first and only All-Pro selection, Alexander was selected to be on the cover of Madden 2007. Alexander broke a bone in his foot and was forced to miss six games. Alexander never returned to his All-Pro status, failing to break 1,000 yards rushing in his final two seasons.
2008 - Vince Young
Young was selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year and then he represented Madden 2008 by being placed on the cover. Young led his team to a 9-6 record as the starting quarterback, but had a terrible year. Young threw for nine touchdowns in comparison to 17 interceptions. He lost his starting job to Kerry Collins the following year and many questions arose about his maturity and state of mind, with reports saying he mentioned suicide to a therapist.
2009 - Brett Favre
The infamous Brett Favre retired before the start of the 2008 year, but was still placed on the cover for Madden 2009. Favre ended his brief retirement to join the New York Jets. Favre started off the year great, but as the season went on, his play declined. He matched his 22 touchdown passes with 22 interceptions. The Jets high hopes were diminished by Favre's lackluster play and the team missed the playoffs after a tremendous start.
2010 - Larry Fitzgerald/Troy Polamalu
2010 was the first year for Madden to have joint cover athletes in Fitzgerald and Polamalu. It would appear that Fitzgerald avoided the curse all together, having his highest receiving touchdown total (13) of his career.
But Polamalu got hit hard. He missed 11 games and the Steelers missed the playoffs all together after winning the Super Bowl just one year earlier. The Steelers defensive play was lacking without Polamalu's presence.
So, is there a curse or not? It's tough to say in the crazy world of the NFL. This year Madden is breaking another barrier by having fans vote for the cover athlete. The choices are Jared Allen from the Minnesota Vikings, Drew Brees for the New Orleans Saints, and Reggie Wayne from the Indianapolis Colts.
The new version of Madden will be releasing in a few short months. So go out and cast your vote. But be careful who you vote for. It may hurt your teams chances at another Super Bowl run.