Nearly 20 years into the iconic franchise’s history, there’s no escaping the “Madden Curse.” This time around, the cover athlete is New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who’s seen more of the sideline than the field this season as a result of various hamstring and back injuries. Gronkowski, who’s expected to miss the rest of the year, is just another notch on the belt of Electronic Arts’ football flagship.
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 in 1998 when Garrison Hearst appeared on the cover of a Madden NFL 99, then proceeded to break his ankle shortly thereafter. Of the 19 players who have graced the cover Madden games prior to this season, 17 have had troubling or abruptly shortened seasons following their cover debut — including several who suffered season-ending injuries shortly after their game hit shelves.
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. (Six years later, it seems that athletes aren’t the only ones who can fall victim to the curse.)
Naturally, EA Sports continues 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.