The Scariest Halloween Hex in All of Sports: Victims of the Madden Curse
It's almost Halloween which means I'm almost ready to greet obnoxious young people with candy, pretend I'm happy to see them on my front porch, and give them enough candy to rot their teeth and cost their parents an extra thousand or so dollars in dental bills.
That's what those parents get for sending their children to my house dressed like the Jonas brothers or whatever other God-forsaken costume the kids are wearing these days.
Now, I promised a friend of mine that my Halloween article wouldn't involve any tricks or treats, but I need to point out a few things....
First of all, certain writers on certain high profile networks have gone waaaaay overboard with the Halloween stuff. Comparing players to Sweet-Tarts? Really? The only things that compare to Sweet-Tarts are Sprees. Just like the only thing that compares to Coke is Pepsi. No matter how you try to sneak your Halloween tricks into an article, no athlete is a Sweet-Tart. Sorry. Nice try though. Props for creativity.
That being said I have a treat (sorry Tom) for all of you. I'm not playing any tricks (sorry again Tom), just straight to the point, terrifying doses of real life sports horror. I'm talking of course about the Madden Curse.
Appearing on the cover is like holding a seance in a haunted cemetery. There are supernatural forces at work, and they are not to be trifled with.
Just ask any of these guys
Madden 2000: Barry Sanders
Sander wasn't the official cover boy (Madden still took center stage) but he was clearly featured in the background.
Sanders abruptly retired before the 1999 season after making his 10th straight Pro Bowl. He got out in time to avoid the jinx.
The brunt of the curse's wrath fell on the Lions, who in the 11 seasons afterwards amassed a total of 50 wins.
Madden 2001: Eddie George
Eddie George was one of the best runningbacks in the NFL. Then he appeared on the cover of Madden 2001.
He staved off fate for a season, rushing for 1,509 yards and making the All-Pro team in 2000, even though the team lost in the playoffs.
Fate caught up with him the following season when he failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. George ran for 939 yards and only five scores, also failing to make the Pro Bowl after four straight trips.
Perhaps more importantly the Titans, who finished 13-3 the previous season, fell to 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
Madden 2002: Daunte Culpepper
Daunte Culpepper was an up and coming star in the NFL. He had everything you could want from a QB. He was a big fella in the pocket who was tough to bring down, he was athletic and could run with the football, but mostly he had the best arm in the league which of course was perfect for lobbing deep balls to Randy Moss.
Here's the thing though, he was on the cover of Madden 2002. One year after making the Pro Bowl, Culpepper only appeared in 11 games due to a knee injury. In those 11 games he threw 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Madden 2003 Marshall Faulk
Faulk was enjoying one of the most dominant stretches ever by a runningback in 2001 when the Rams were setting offensive records and nearly won their second Super Bowl in three years.
In 2002 however, after gracing the cover of Madden (note the year on the Madden cover is actually a year ahead of the corresponding NFL season), he only started 10 games due to injury and failed to top 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in six years.
The reigning NFC Champs went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
Madden 2004: Mike Vick
Vick was the most exciting player in the NFL and by far the most lethal player in the Madden game after his 2002 Pro Bowl season.
Enter the jinx.
Vick broke his leg during the preseason and only made four starts during the 2003 regular season.
I don't think anyone needs a refresher course on what's happened in the years since.
Madden 2005: Ray Lewis
Lewis suffered one of the more mild declines of the Madden victims.
Coming off his finest year as a pro in 2003 when he was named All-Pro, Lewis still managed a decent season in 2004, although his All-Pro nod that year seemed fraudulent at best.
The Ravens missed the playoffs and Lewis began a string of four straight seasons with games missed due to injury.
Madden 2006: Donovan McNabb
McNabb got it bad. Real bad.
Could it be because he fell victim to both the Madden AND the Chunky Soup (which claimed Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner) curse?
The investigation is ongoing, and the findings are not yet known.
What is known however, is that in 2005 after winning the NFC Championship and appearing on the Madden cover, McNabb was enjoying one of his finest seasons. That is until a sports hernia ended his season after nine games.
McNabb battled numerous injuries but the hernia was too much and he was placed on IR. He got it coming and going that year as Terrell Owens went rogue and refused to speak with McNabb while infamously sabotaging the Eagles.
Madden 2007: Shaun Alexander
Alexander had one of the most precipitous and immediate declines in NFL history. Is it coincidence that it began the year he was on the Madden cover? Not likely.
In 2005, Alexander was All-Pro and ran for 1,880 yards and a (then) NFL record 27 touchdowns en route to an NFC Championship.
The following season he fractured his foot and played in only ten games. He failed to rush for 1,000 yards and score 10 touchdowns for the first time since 2000.
In fact, he never accomplished either feat again and was out of the NFL by 2008 after just 8 seasons in the league.
Over the course of one season he went from NFL MVP to waiver fodder.
Madden 2008: Vince Young
As a rookie in 2006, Young made the Pro Bowl and was on the fast track to stardom.
Not so fast. Like the Madden Cruiser overshooting the take-out window, Young's career went in reverse. In 2007 he threw only 9 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions.
His greatest asset, the ability to run, seemed diminished as well. His rushing average fell by a yard and a half and his touchdowns dipped to three after he ran for seven the previous year.
Young posted one of the worst playoff games ever by a QB that year, racking up 140 total yards with no touchdowns and an interception in a 17-6 loss.
Madden 2009: Brett Favre
This year was extra catastrophic.
In 2007 Tom Brady set the all-time passing touchdown record. He should have been the cover boy. He wisely declined. Didn't matter. He tore his ACL during the first quarter of play and missed the entire season. Apparently the curse kicks in even if you elect not to do the cover.
The man who DID pose was Favre. Given Madden's man-love for Favre, I'm surprised he hasn't graced the cover every year. But then again, I guess Madden wouldn't want to jinx his favorite player.
In 2008 Favre left his beloved Green Bay Packers and came east to play for the Jets. They got off to an 8-3 start with Favre throwing 20 touchdowns. The Jets went 1-4 over their final five games and Favre only threw two touchdowns during that span.
They missed the playoffs as Favre threw an interception with a chance to win the final game. He cost two teams playoff spots, the Jets and the Patriots, as his blunder allowed to Dolphins to sneak in thanks to a tie-breaker.
Favre led the NFL in interceptions that season with 22, and this was the year he was introduced to the now infamous Jenn Sterger.
Madden 2010: Troy Polamalu & Larry Fitzgerald
Two cover boys means one of two things. Either twice as much bad karma, or each player has a 50/50 shot as escaping the curse.
Luckily for Fitzgerald, it was the latter. He got away scott-free.
Polamalu wasn't so lucky. Coming off a career year in 2008 when he led the Steelers to a Super Bowl title, Polamalu left the season opener in 2009 with a sprained MCL,
He would play in just 5 games the entire season.
Madden 2011: Drew Brees
You know the commercial that features a Saints fan using voodoo on his neighbor who likes the Falcons? Ironic, considering Breesus is on this year's cover. That's bad football voodoo if there ever was such a thing.
Brees is coming off a Super Bowl victory and an MVP caliber season. Last year he threw 11 interceptions the entire season en route to a 13-2 record as a starter (he missed a game). This season he already has 10 interceptions through seven games, more than double his pace from last year.
That includes a 4-interception performance at home against the Browns. The Saints lost that game, something they've done more in seven games (three times) than they did all of last year (twice).
At 4-3 they are third in their own division behind Atlanta and Tampa Bay and Brees is doing his best to play through a strained MCL.
Oh yeah, even Breesus is vulnerable to the hex.
You can now order customized cover art for your Madden game. I love it! Now fans can curse their least favorite players from the comfort of home, no candles or funky smelling oils needed.
So while I order my very own Peyton Manning Madden 2011, I pose the question...who is Madden's next victim?