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Coincidence or curse? Looking back on Madden’s troubled cover athletes

Another NFL season is nearly upon us, and that means another edition of Madden NFL will be hitting shelves. It also means that football fans and gamers alike will be keeping a watchful eye on the athlete featured on the cover of the latest installment of the series – in this case, Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman – to find out whether the “Madden Curse” will claim another victim.

The legend of the Madden Curse has grown from a simple joke to the sort of superstition that has fans aggressively campaigning to keep their teams’ stars off the game’s cover. It started with Garrison Hearst, who appeared on the cover of a Madden NFL game in 1999, only to break his ankle shortly thereafter. Of the 18 players that have been featured on the cover of Madden NFL prior to this year’s edition, 17 have had troubling or abruptly shortened seasons following their cover debut – including several players who suffered season-ending injuries soon after their appearance on a Madden NFL cover.

The spectre of the Madden Curse has become so widely recognized, in fact, that the gambling world has begun posting odds each year regarding the likelihood that the most recent Madden NFL cover athlete will be injured during the season. Back in 2010, Madden NFL developer EA Tiburon even confirmed plans to develop a movie based on the notion of the Madden Curse. (The lack of updates since the initial announcement of the film could indicate that athletes aren’t the only victims of the curse.)

Naturally, EA Sports has continued to dismiss any serious talk of a “curse” hovering over its wildly successful franchise, and attributed the rash of injuries and other negative, post-cover issues to an athlete’s natural regression after a season of peak performance.

And they’re probably right. (Probably.)

Still, the long history of ill-fated athletes that have adorned each edition of the game certainly offers an intriguing string of coincidences to ponder.

History of the Curse (click each cover for details)