A few things come to mind.
First, the "Madden curse." It seems every player who winds up on the cover of Madden winds up with a bad year. Hillis' fellow finalist—Michael Vick—should know as he was injured in the preseason of his year on the cover, not to return until late in the season.
Does that mean the Madden Curse is coming to Cleveland? After all we've been through, does it really matter if a supposed curse that lasts for one season besets on a fanbase that seems to be perennially cursed anyway?
Some are saying Hillis won over Vick, as well as Aaron Rodgers, Jamaal Charles, Matt Ryan and Ray Rice, because of the curse. Fans of the Packers, Chiefs, Falcons and Ravens voted for Hillis to avoid being next in the curse's crosshairs. Also, with the nationwide reputation Cleveland has as America's Sports Capital of Losing, hey, what's another curse to that championship-forsaken town, anyway?
However, in Cleveland, there was an all-out campaign to give Hillis the proverbial heat so that he could win. Apparently, we're not afraid of any specific curse. Instead, we're just resigned to all of them—even ones we're not aware of. National columnists pointed out his Facebook campaign page had thousands of members, and in every sports web page, some Clevelander was pulling for Hillis to get the cover.
I remember back in 1985, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was looking for a home to put their building on, a national poll was conducted for 50 cents a call to one of a handful of 900 numbers, each representing a different city: Cleveland was up against Memphis, New York City and Cincinnati. With a similar organized campaign, we ran away with a simple majority.
And I won't even go into what WMMS radio did to Rolling Stone's readers' polls. Either way, when it comes to a useless vote, you don't wanna mess with Cleveland.
Of course, despite possessing the land the actual building is on, the powers-that-be keep handing us the great insult of rarely hosting an actual induction ceremony here, or an anniversary tribute concert here, etc... It's widely believed the Hall of Fame's powers-that-be expected New York to win, and when their expectations went awry, they began exhibiting all sorts of spite.
It's a spite similar to what we're seeing in the aftermath of the announcement that Hillis won. Some are claiming race was an issue. However, it is ironic that although Hillis is a white man who plays a position as a feature back—an on-field role that's predominantly black in today's NFL, Vick was also a black man who revolutionized the traditionally white position of quarterback.
However, it went deeper than that. Specifically, Vick's felony conviction and subsequent prison sentence was an unspoken issue. Did that sway votes for or against him? Considering the alleged Madden curse effect, it's really hard to say.
Even so, it's not out of bounds to wonder if the vote against Vick was illegitimate, considering Hillis would be the safe bet for Electronic Arts, the game's maker. Putting Vick on the cover would draw the wrath of animal rights groups (and other non-organized sympathizers), so there is a motive to alleging a rigged vote.
However, if the vote was supposed to be rigged, why didn't Vick lose in the first round to DeMarcus Ware? It's not like the Cowboys are lacking in fans.
However, this is Hillis' day. Some actually think that ESPN SportsNation hostess Michelle Beadle (Damn you, Matthew Barnaby!) had a subtle crush on him and that also swayed votes.
That's not far out of the question either. With his humble roots in Arkansas and quiet work ethic that fits blue-collar Cleveland to a tee, it's easy to see that Hillis is a likable guy, even if he looked like Quasimodo.
As Hillis began running over/through/around/etc...everyone but the Steelers and Ravens, he began developing a folk-hero status here in Cleveland. Here on Bleacher Report, discussion threads began with mock Chuck Norris-esque "Fun Fact" threads (Peyton Hillis broke five bears' tackles last Sunday. Not Chicago Bears. Grizzly Bears.). His reaction? Pretty much added up to "Aw, shucks." He didn't try to use it to further pimp himself, or claim royalties. He took it in stride as the sideshow it was. With today's NFL of Chad Johnson/Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, it's difficult to find, much less champion who avoids off-field attention.
The most interesting thing about Hillis' appearance on the cover is that he got it without a major career achievement. He has less than 2,200 yards from scrimmage in three years of playing—two of which were mainly on the bench. Compare that with the stats of other running backs who were on the cover: Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, Eddie George. What Hillis achieved in three years was the average season for some of these guys.
Also, he lacks a similar impact to the game that his predecessors did. Until now, he was not really a household name outside of Northeastern Ohio. Even as he was announced, many casual fans outside of Ohio were saying "Who?" Instead of being a milestone for career achievement, his placement on the cover will be betting that his career turns into theirs.He will not be compared to them now.
Instead of representing what has made the game great in the recent past, he represents what can keep the game great in the near future. Or in Madden terms, his is the Anti-Favre cover.
Bottom line, whether you think Hillis (or Cleveland for that matter) deserved it or not, he is the one that got it. Voting had been well-publicized for all five weeks it was going on, so if you don't like it, you've got yourself to at least partially blame.
Or you can thank us for taking the hit this year.
Then again, it could've been worse. The final could've been Vick vs. Roethlisberger.