Update: With Madden 13 on the way, we have revisted this article and updated it with the most recent victims. We will update this article with a link to our review of the game when available.
It started as a joke. A player makes the cover of the Madden franchise and is subsequently seriously hurt the next year, or they take a dramatic downward turn in their performance. Everyone began to joke and say there was a curse, which all but the most superstitious dismissed with a laugh. Then it started to get weird.
The “Madden Curse” is a superstition that claims that anyone to grace the cover of EA Sports’ Madden NFL football video games will subsequently be injured, or have an epically bad year. Since 1999, the games have featured a player on the cover that is considered to be at the pinnacle of their careers. To receive the chance to be on the cover is considered and honor to some, and a curse to others. There is also a fairly inciting financial aspect to making the cover as well. But here is the eerie part. Here is where the joke of the curse starts to get weird. Out of the 16 players featured, 14 have had bad years and received serious injuries. Really terrible injuries. It even ended the careers of a few of them. Of the two that escaped injuries during the season, Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees, one was injured in the first round of the playoffs while the other was on the receiving end of the biggest upset in NFL playoff history.
The most recent player to grace the cover is wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He is currently featured on Madden 13, which will be released on August 28h. Feel free to sweat, Lions fans.
There could be several reasons for the “curse”. The players chosen all tend to be coming off of exceptional years, and in the football world an exceptional year also means a physically taxing one, and injuries could be the inevitable result of such a year. It could also be that players on the cover are targeted more than others simply because they are already considered superstars, and the opposing players want to limit their productivity- in other words, beat the crap out of them. Or it really could be a curse.
No one at EA, the publishers of the game, will ever admit to a curse (let alone one that is associated with one of its most popular and lucrative game franchises) but the results are disconcerting. Every player that has been on the cover of the video game has been injured or not played the subsequent season. Every single player. There are dozens of websites dedicated to the curse, and even the website Snopes, whose entire point is to debunk myths, rumors and urban legends, sees a pattern — although they claim it is just an inevitable result of the players being selected. All 14 of them (at the time of original publication of this article). Whether it is a curse, or simply an inevitable result of the game, it is certainly an odd string of coincidences.
And now a look at why it is called the “Madden Curse”:
Until ‘99, John Madden himself was featured on the cover of each game. Short of exponential weight gain and powerful punishment to his arteries, Madden seemed to fair well after being featured. For the PAL release of the game, EA decided to feature a player rather than Madden himself, and San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst was chosen. Hearst was breaking records with ease and seemed to be destined for the Hall of Fame. After receiving the cover honors, he then helped lead the 49ers to a divisional playoff game, where he broke his ankle. Badly broke his ankle. The break was so severe that Hearst missed two full seasons and was never the same again. The curse had begun.
Madden Curse 1, Players 0
In 2000 EA decided to stick with the idea of featuring top players on all covers of the Madden series in every region, and Barry Sanders was selected to share the cover with Madden. Perhaps sensing that something horrible was about to happen to him, Sanders shocked the NFL world and broke the hearts of Lions fans by announcing his sudden retirement just before training camp was scheduled to begin. Sanders would never play again. Although many copies had already shipped with Sanders on the cover, EA released later versions of the game with Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens replacing Sanders. Midway through the season, Levens injured his knee. The Packers missed the playoffs after appearing in back-to-back Super Bowls. Levens was relegated to reserve status and never started again.
Madden Curse 3, Players 0
The 2001 cover featured Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, fresh off a narrow loss to the Rams in the Super Bowl. After being honored with the Madden 2001 cover, George went on to have a career year that season, shattering his personal bests, and seemingly ending the Madden Curse before it began. George helped lead his team to a return to the playoffs, and right into the divisional finals against the Baltimore Ravens – where he bobbled an easy pass that was intercepted and returned for what would be a game winning touchdown, stunning Titan fans and costing Tennessee a trip to the Super Bowl. The next season, George spent most of the year injured and would never come near his 2000 numbers again.
Madden Curse 4, Players 0
Coming off of a championship game loss in his debut season, Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper was looking like a potential MVP, and the Vikings were favorites to make the playoffs. Despite their potential, the Vikings went 4-7 before Culpepper received a season ending injury. Minnesota finished 5-11, and talk of a Madden curse began to circulate as a joke.
Madden Curse 5, Players 0
After helping the Rams to two Super Bowls in three years, the running back looked like a solid choice for the Madden 2003 cover. He was still in his prime, surrounded by talent at every position, and had run for four straight season with more than 1,300 yards. After being featured on the Madden cover, Faulk was plagued with a nagging ankle injury and failed to reach 1,000 yards. The Rams finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Compared to what happened next, Faulk got off lucky.
Madden Curse 6, Players 0
At this point, the Madden curse was more than a running joke and it had began to gain urban legend status. Six players had been featured, and all six had failed to produce the following year. But athletes at the professional level need to be confident, so when the Madden team approached Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, he jumped at the honor. After helping turn around the disappointing Falcons and leading them to their first playoffs in years the season before, things looked good for the pro bowler — right up until the preseason when he broke his leg and played only five games all year. It is tempting to pin Vick’s subsequent prison sentence for dog fighting on the Madden Curse, but that is more likely do to Vick being an idiot.
Madden Curse 7, Players 0
After a career high six interceptions in the previous season, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis seemed like an easy choice. The guy was a rock in the NFL – rarely missing a game, constantly producing exceptional numbers, and an all-around star. The guy even skated on murder charges in 2000. He was untouchable, a future hall of famer, and a legend in the making. Then he was on the cover of Madden 2005. The perennial pro bowler failed to catch a single interception for the first time in his career, the Ravens went 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, and Lewis ended the season on the bench with a torn hamstring.
Madden Curse 8, Players 0
By the 2004 season, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was making his case as being one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. Under his leadership, the Eagles had gone 59-21 and made the playoffs for five straight years, including an NFC championship loss, and a trip to the Super Bowl. McNabb not only did not believe in the curse, he essentially poked it in the eye and dared it to try something, saying that it “might be a trend, but I don’t believe in the curse at all.” In the first game of the season McNabb received a sports hernia – a painful and lingering groin injury that can take months to heal, sometimes requiring surgery. Surgery in the groin. McNabb played eight more games, then further injured it and opted for the surgery that kept him out for the rest of the season.
Madden Curse 9, Players 0
At this point, the whispers of a curse had become front page news. No one wanted to believe it though, and besides, EA was offering a generous financial package to go along with the honor of the cover. Seattle Seahawks running back was the next poor sucker to be featured. Coming off of a record setting season, Alexander had led the Seahawks to their best season ever and their first Super Bowl appearance. In week 3 of his Madden-gracing season, Alexander broke his foot and missed six games. He returned, but was never the same.
Madden Curse 10, Players 0
Although Vince Young eventually took the Madden-bullet, LaDanian Tomlinson was the first player approached to be on the cover. Terrified fans immediately began to start websites and petitions begging Tomlinson not to be on the packaging. Although he claims his decision had more to do with EA’s financial offer than the curse, Tomlinson refused and went on to a record-setting year while Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Young played just five games before hurting his quadriceps. It was the first time in Young’s career (including middle school) that Young had missed a game due to injury. The next year, Young contracted a knee injury that put him out for most of the season. He then lost the starting job to Kerry Collins.
Madden Curse 11, Players 0
Although no one at EA will likely ever admit to a Madden curse, the 2009 cover was given to quarterback Brett Favre who had just retired. After all, what could happen to someone that was retired? The curse seemed to have been finally broken via a loophole that would make any lawyer proud. Then Favre came back. After breaking the hearts of Packers fans everywhere by joining the Jets, Favre was doing well until he tore a bicep and finished the season with just two touchdowns and nine interceptions, costing the Jets a shot at the playoffs.
Madden Curse 12, Players 0
For the first time since Madden and Barry Sanders appeared together, the franchise featured two players on the cover: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. Would the curse be confused? Might its intensity be halved by double the players? In short, no. In the season opener Polamalu sprained his MCL and missed four games. He returned for three games before tearing his posterior cruciate ligament and sat out most of the season. Fitzgerald on the other hand had a great year with over 1,000 yards receiving. Right up until the playoffs when a rib injury forced him out of the post-season and the Pro Bowl.
Madden Curse 14, Players 0
This one is a bit more subjective, but you can make a good case that Brees was a victim as well. After throwing for a career high 4,620 yards, Brees led the defending champion Saints back into the playoffs as a wildcard team. They were not favored to repeat, but they were expected to do well and potentially make a run to at least the NFC Championship. Then in the first round, the Saints went up against the Seattle Seahawks and despite the game being played in Seattle, the Saints were 11+ point favorites according to Vegas oddsmakers. And they lost. That might not sound like that big of a deal, and definitely not curse-worthy, but then you have to consider that the Seahawks entered the playoffs as the first team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record. So basically, the Saints — defending Super Bowl champs — were victims of what was arguably the biggest upset ever in the NFL playoffs by losing to the worst playoff team in history.
Madden Curse 15, Players 0
After an outstanding 2010 campaign with the Cleveland Browns, fans from around the world got together and decided that they hated Hillis. They hated him so much that they rewarded his 1100+ yard breakout season by voting for him as the cover athlete for Madden 12. Hillis beat out all others, and then went on to have the most disastrous season of his career. Following failed contract negotiations with the Browns’ management that turned ugly and bitter, Hillis endured several injuries throughout the season as both his health and attitude deteriorated. He ended up playing in just 10 games all season, and many of those were at diminished capacity. It got so bad that one unnamed Brown player told reporters, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Last year, Peyton was such a positive, inspirational force on our team — but now he’s like a different guy. It’s like he’s in a funk that he can’t get out of.” Perhaps Hillis was cursed…
Madden Curse 16, Players 0