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The history of the Madden Curse

More than 20 years into the iconic franchise’s history, there’s almost no escaping the Madden Curse. Since Garrison Hearst broke his ankle in 1998 shortly after appearing on the cover of Madden NFL 99, most of the players who starred on the game’s cover have suffered an injury the following season. Of the 22 players who have been selected to grace the cover of Madden games, 16 have had troubling or abruptly shortened seasons following their cover debut — including several who suffered season-ending injuries shortly after their game hit shelves.

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. They’re probably right — but Madden NFL 21 gave us another chance to test the curse. Lamar Jackson seemingly passed the test, but the injury bug plagued the Ravens backfield a season later in the form of season-ending injuries to all their running backs.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes survived his first cover appearance in Madden NFL 20, but things haven’t looked too bright in the 2021/22 season. Madden NFL 22 marks the first time since Madden NFL 10 that two players shared the cover. However, Madden NFL 22 is the first game to feature two cover players who’ve been previously featured on Madden covers. Tom Brady appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 18, The Goat Edition. Brady also survived his Madden Curse. Instead, he was bitten with the Season MVP curse, an award that cost him Super Bowl wins against the Giants during the 2007/2008 season and the Eagles during the 2017/2018 season.

Madden NFL 23

John Madden bursts through the cover of Madden NFL 23: All Madden Edition.
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Cover figure: John Madden

The road to the cover

This cover athlete is none other than the man himself: John Madden. Renowned commentator, Madden was picked for this cover in honor of his passing earlier in the year. Considering how large an impact he has had not only on the game franchise but the sport of football as a whole, this is a well-deserved and respectful pick for the legend whose name has now become synonymous with the game he loved so much.

The curse?

Perhaps this will mark the end of the Madden curse due to no athlete on the cover being able to feel its wrath. Or, perhaps the curse will simply take the year off, out of respect, only to come back stronger next year to keep traditions alive by striking down whoever dares follow the great John Madden’s appearance on the game’s box.

Madden NFL 22

Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes on the cover of Madden 22.
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Cover athletes: Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Patrick Mahomes II (Kansas City Chiefs)

The road to the cover

Brady’s record-setting career speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes is routinely inserted into the G.O.A.T conversation, often referred to as the “mini-goat.” There is no superstar combo more deserving of a shared Madden cover than Brady/Mahomes. Brady proved he wasn’t just a system quarterback as he led the Tamp Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win over Mahomes’ Chiefs. Meanwhile, Mahomes proved that nobody could keep up with the 2020/2021 Chief’s offensive firepower. Both made their way onto the cover, but both are having very different seasons in 2022.

The curse doesn’t strike

Their meeting in Super Bowl 55 culminated in Brady throwing three touchdown passes while Mahomes ran for his life in the backfield. It was here that, perhaps, the Madden NFL 20 curse finally bit Patrick Mahomes. Injuries to the Chief’s offensive line allowed Tampa Bay’s pass rush to have a field day against Mahomes. In the 2021/2022 season, Kansas City broke the curse with Mahomes leading the Chiefs to a 31-20 victory at the Super Bowl.

Madden NFL 21

Lamar Jackson on the cover of Madden 21.
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Cover athlete: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)

The road to the cover

Lamar Jackson started his NFL career in 2018, selected as the 32nd pick of the first round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Serving as relief for starting quarterback Joe Flacco, Jackson eventually moved to the starting position once Flacco was injured. In his debut game as an NFL starting quarterback, Jackson rushed 117 yards, setting a franchise record for the Ravens.

Throughout the season into the next, Jackson set even more records, including being the youngest starting quarterback in a playoff game. Following the end of the season, the Ravens redesigned their offensive strategy, centering it around Jackson’s skill set. Flacco, who Jackson replaced, was traded to the Denver Broncos for the 2019 season.

Jackson’s 2019 season was even more impressive, earning a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his opening game. Throughout the season, Jackson set a number of records, including being the first player in the NFL to pass more than 250 yards and rush 120 yards in a single game. At the end of the season, Jackson earned the title of MVP, being the only player other than Tom Brady to earn the title from a unanimous vote.

The curse doesn’t strike

Jackson has continued to frustrate defenses in the NFL and in Madden. The curse never bit Jackson by means of personal injury, but the 2021/22 Baltimore Ravens backfield was stricken with several season-ending injuries. They say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Tom Brady put the Madden curse in its place by making it to the Super Bowl that year. Perhaps the curse has found new and indirect ways to impose its will. Jackson’s appearance and Mahome’s most recent appearance indicate a “cover skip” trend brewing, similar to how certain traits can skip a generation.

Madden NFL 20

Patrick Mahomes on the cover of Madden 20.
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Cover athlete: Patrick Mahomes II (Kansas City Chiefs)

The road to the cover

Selected as the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes backed up Alex Smith in his rookie season. In the one game he appeared, he threw for nearly 300 yards. The Chiefs traded Smith to the Redskins following the 2017 season, opening the door for Mahomes to be the starter in Kansas City.

No one could’ve predicted the monster season Mahomes would have in 2018. In the regular season, Mahomes lit up defenses to the tune of 5,097 yards and 50 TDs to just 12 interceptions. Thanks to Mahomes’ keen accuracy and cannon of an arm, the Chiefs had one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. He led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game, where he played well but ultimately took the loss to the Tom Brady led Patriots.

Mahomes gracing the cover shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. For his 2018 season, he won NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and numerous other accolades. He’s one of the rising stars in the NFL and already one of the best quarterbacks in the league. We’ll see if he can keep the stat sheet filled and avoid the curse come football season.

The curse strikes, then it doesn’t

It looked like Mahomes may have been struck with the Madden Curse remarkably early. The Kansas City Chiefs announced on October 17 that Mahomes was out with a knee injury.

However, it did not end up being nearly as serious as Chiefs fans feared, and Mahomes would end up missing less than a month before returning to action. During his absence, the Chiefs only lost one game, and ultimately finished the season at 12-4. During 2019, Mahomes threw 26 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. His shortened season means he likely won’t be awarded the NFL MVP award, but he was still dominant on the field for much of that time.

Mahomes would eventually lead the Chiefs through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers. He started the game in poor form, missing several important passes and throwing two interceptions by the time the game ended. However, in the fourth quarter, he turned it into high gear, hitting several targets and staying alive in the pocket to keep drives going. The Chiefs ultimately defeated the 49ers 31-20 despite the early deficit, and Mahomes was named the game’s MVP. It’s arguable that he wasn’t actually the best-performing player in the game, especially when accounting for the first half, but his ability to come from behind was on full display.

Madden NFL 19

Antonio Brown on the cover of Madden 19.
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Cover athlete: Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers)

The road to the cover

Antonio Brown originally began his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 at a time when the team was loaded with other star wide receivers. Initially focused primarily on returning punts, he eventually found a place as one of the best receivers on the team, capable of playing a slot role like Hines Ward or a deep-threat role like Mike Wallace.

This versatility consistently made Brown one of the most popular targets for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and he ended the 2017 regular season with more receiving yards than anyone else in the NFL. He also happened to have nine touchdowns, with his ability to catch nearly impossible passes unrivaled in the league. Though he acts as a workhorse receiver for the Steelers, he continues to be a dangerous return threat.

Aside from his on-field dominance, Brown is also known for his dance moves. He has been penalized for excessive celebration after several of his touchdowns, though the relatively minor disciplinary action doesn’t seem to have any lasting effect on his willingness to shake his moneymaker in the endzone.

The curse doesn’t strike?

From a statistical standpoint, the Madden Curse didn’t strike Brown. He hauled in 104 passes for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns. The impressive season helped Brown continue his streak of 1,000 yard receiving seasons, which now stands at six.

Even though Brown had a good season,  Brown has had a bizarre offseason. He didn’t play in the final game of the 2018 regular season after reportedly being involved in a tense argument with Roethlisberger. Brown sat out from practice during week 17 and his tenure with the Steelers later came to an end. Brown requested to be traded during the offseason, eventually getting sent to the Oakland Raiders for draft picks that amounted to minimal compensation for the Steelers.

His tenure with the Raiders is off to an inauspicious start to say the least. After a Whole Body Cryotherapy treatment, Brown developed awful frostbite on his feet, which is extremely baffling. It’s also unfathomably ironic considering Madden runs on EA’s Frostbite engine.

Even worse: the NFL banned Brown’s preferred helmet this offseason. Apparently, he really, really likes his helmet, because he has threatened to retire if the NFL doesn’t let him wear it.

Since the Madden Curse is typically defined by performance and injury, Brown’s 2018 season doesn’t fit the criteria. But he was on the cover just last year and the ensuing offseason may sideline him for good. Not because of a serious injury — the frostbite looks worse than it is — but because of a helmet. If AB likes his helmet so much, why didn’t he wear it on the cover of Madden 19?

Madden NFL 2018

Tom Brady on the cover of Madden 18.
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Cover athlete: Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

The road to the cover

Tom Brady’s now-legendary career started with humble beginnings. The former University of Michigan quarterback wasn’t picked by the Patriots until the sixth round of the NFL draft. At the start of his rookie season, Brady was the fourth quarterback on the Patriots’ depth chart, but took over as the starter midway through the following season and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win.

The victory was the beginning of a period of dominance that included three Super Bowl wins in four years. With Brady under center, the Patriots have been perennial Super Bowl contenders. In 2014, Brady collected his fourth Super Bowl ring, and last season, he became only the second player ever — and the first quarterback — to win five Super Bowls. Brady has amassed 13 Pro Bowl selections, three league MVP awards, and three Super Bowl MVPs.

His historic career has not been without some controversy, however. The Patriots have been involved in numerous investigations throughout his career, including the 2015 “deflategate” scandal, when Brady was accused of intentionally deflating footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship game. While some may view Brady’s legacy as tainted, on a pure numbers and accolades standpoint, Brady is the most decorated player to appear on the cover of Madden and is inarguably one of the greatest football players of all time.

The curse doesn’t strike

Before the season started, we said that if any player could defy the Madden curse, it would be Tom Brady. And guess what? Tom Brady did way more than avoiding injury or sputtering statistically, he laughed at the curse en route to one of his best seasons in the league as an 18-year veteran (he’s 40!). Brady rattled off more than 4,500 yards and 32 passing touchdowns while leading the Pats to an AFC best 13-3 record. His exceptional play earned him his third regular-season MVP award.

The all-time great continued his stellar campaign through the playoffs, including an epic comeback performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship. In Super Bowl LII, Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns. Despite Brady’s great night, the Philadelphia Eagles came out on top in a thriller. While Brady’s season ended in disappointment, there’s no denying he avoided the Madden curse in a big way.

Madden NFL 2017

Rob Gronkowski on the cover of Madden 17.
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Cover athlete: Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots)

The road to the cover

Injuries had been a recurring problem for prolific New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s career long before he graced the cover of Madden NFL 17, but he still managed to become one of the league’s most productive — and dominant — players at the position for several years leading up to the 2016-2017 season. A runner-up in the previous year’s Madden NFL cover selection process, Gronkowski finished the 2015-2016 season with 10 touchdowns and 1,018 yards on the season and helped lead the Patriots to the playoffs for yet another year. He capped off another excellent season by being selected to the Pro Bowl and the AP All-Pro team for the fourth time in his career.

The curse strikes

Gronkowski missed the first two games of the 2016 season with a lingering hamstring injury. He appeared sparingly in weeks three and four but didn’t start until week five against the Cleveland Browns where he racked up 109 receiving yards. He was productive in starts in the Patriots’ next five games, but in week 11 against Seattle, Gronk took suffered a pulmonary contusion after being on the receiving end of a huge hit from Seahawks DB Earl Thomas.

Gronk was kept out of the Patriots’ week 11 contest against San Francisco. He came back into the starting lineup the following week against the New York Jets, but he left the game early, before he had even caught a single pass, with a back injury. Gronk underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk, and was placed on injured reserve on December 3, 2016, where he would remain for the rest of the season. His season ended with 540 reception yards and three touchdowns on 25 catches. The superstar TE was forced to watch his Patriots win the Super Bowl from the sidelines.

Madden NFL 2016

Odell Beckham Jr. on the cover of Madden 16.
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Cover athlete: Odell Beckham, Jr. (New York Giants)

The road to the cover

The 12th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made his presence known late in the 2014 season with a memorable, one-handed touchdown reception during a Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys that was hailed as one of the greatest catches in NFL history.

Beckham went on to become one of the most accomplished rookie receivers in the league’s history, setting numerous records for both first-year players and veterans with a season that included 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns — all in just 12 games. He eventually beat out the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski to adorn the cover of the next edition of Madden NFL, becoming the youngest player in the series’ history to be featured on the cover.

The curse doesn’t strike

The season after making the cover, Beckham’s season was marred by some on-field anger issues that resulted in the Giants’ receiver being suspended a game, but the incident had no discernible effect on his performance the rest of the season. Finishing the season with 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, Beckham actually recorded higher numbers than the year before and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.

Madden NFL 2015

Richard Sherman on the cover of Madden 15.

Cover athlete: Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)

The road to the cover

One of the league’s most dominant defensive backs in the league, Richard Sherman’s knack for shutting down offenses — and putting on a show after doing so — made him a popular (and polarizing) pick for the Madden NFL 2015 cover athlete. Capable of turning even the best wide receivers into mediocre performers, Sherman put his season on the line against the Madden Curse, going so far as to tell ESPN, “I don’t believe in curses. I believe in God.”

The curse doesn’t strike

Bucking the trend of cursed cover athletes, Sherman had another all-star performance during the 2014 season, leading Seahawks’ defense and helping Seattle return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season. Although the team lost against the New England Patriots in the championship game, it wasn’t due to any lack of effort — or performance — by Sherman, who recorded three tackles for the league-leading Seattle defense.

After the season, however, the Seahawks announced Sherman might need Tommy John surgery during the offseason to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow. However, Sherman later announced he would opt to heal naturally, rather than get surgery. In the end, he healed on his own in time to return to the starting lineup for the first game of the 2015 season.

Madden NFL 25

Adrian Peterson on the cover of Madden 25.

Cover athlete: Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)

The road to the cover

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson earned Madden NFL cover honors when he returned to football after eight months of rehabilitation for an ACL and MCL tear during the 2011 season. Already a workhorse for the team before his injury, his prospects for a successful return seemed dim after he was carted off the field during a December 2011 victory over the Washington Redskins.

Peterson returned to the team in 2012 and proved all the doubters wrong by rushing for 2,097 yards throughout the season — the second-highest tally for any running back in the history of the league. His performance helped the team improve from a 3-13 record to a 10-6 finish, and earned him NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

Editor’s note: Barry Sanders also appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 25, but only the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 releases. He was retired at the time, though, and he’d already served his Madden Curse sentence after appearing on the Madden NFL 2000 cover.

The curse strikes

While Peterson’s start to the 2013 season looked good with a 78-yard rushing touchdown on the first carry of the game, he struggled for the first half of the season with a nagging foot injury. He ended up playing only 14 games, and the team’s record dropped back down to 5-10-1 after he was declared done for the season in December due to the same, aggravated foot injury.

Madden NFL 2013

Calvin Johnson on the cover of Madden 13.

Cover athlete: Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)

The road to the cover

Calvin “Megatron” Johnson already held nearly every record a wide receiver could have in the NFL before being named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2013, with the former Georgia Institute of Technology standout living up to every bit of the hype that surrounded his first-round selection in the 2007 NFL draft. Johnson even managed to put up gaudy numbers during Detroit’s notorious 0-16 season in 2008, during which he led the league in receiving touchdowns and finished among the top five in receiving yards.

The curse doesn’t strike

Probably the best case against the Madden Curse, Johnson’s 2012 season was one of his best overall and featured countless records falling by the wayside as he went on to record 1,964 yards receiving throughout the season — a new NFL record that beats the previous record held by Jerry Rice.

Johnson also set or tied NFL records for 100-yard games and receptions during 2012, proving that not even an appearance on the cover of Madden NFL 2013 can stop him from being one of the best wide receivers ever to play the game.

Madden NFL 2012

Payton Hillis on the cover of Madden 12.

Cover athlete: Peyton Hillis (Cleveland Browns)

The road to the cover

A former fullback turned running back, Peyton Hillis came off the bench for the Cleveland Browns in 2010 to smash his way to 1,177 yards rushing and 477 yards receiving in a surprising season that put all eyes on the otherwise unheralded bruiser.

By the end of the season, Hillis — who had only rushed for 397 yards over two seasons in the NFL before this breakout year — was in elite territory with the likes of Marshall Faulk and other dual-threat rushers who terrorized opponents with both their catching and running abilities. In the contest to determine the Madden NFL 2012 cover athlete, Hillis was chosen over Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.

The curse strikes

Hillis’ troubles began well before the 2011 season, with heated contract disputes leading to trouble in the Cleveland clubhouse, then physical troubles that included a bout with strep throat and an injured hamstring that had him missing games all season and generally failing to get in sync with the team.

He ended up playing only 10 games that season, accumulating just 587 yards rushing in a significant letdown from his highlight-filled 2010 performance. The Browns declined to resign him following the season and he left the team as a free agent.

Madden NFL 2011

Drew Brees on the cover of Madden 11.

Cover athlete: Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)

The road to the cover

Pass-happy New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was named the Madden NFL cover athlete after his record-breaking 2009 season that had him lead the Saints to Super Bowl XLIV and defeat the Indianapolis Colts in a wild shootout. Brees set a new NFL record for completion percentage during the season, and gave the Saints their first championship in franchise history. He was named the Super Bowl MVP and received numerous other accolades during the season, including the honor of being named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year.

The curse strikes

While the 2010 season wasn’t a terrible disappointment overall, Brees had one of his worst seasons to date. The usually accurate passer threw twice as many interceptions as he had in previous years, and the team’s generally lackluster performance led to a playoff defeat in the first week of the postseason. The loss was especially disappointing given that New Orleans lost to Seattle, the first team in NFL history to make it into the playoffs with a losing record.

Madden NFL 2010

Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu on the cover of Madden 10.

Cover athletes: Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) & Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers)

The road to the cover

The cover of Madden NFL 2010 marked the first year that two athletes were featured on the same cover of the game, and much like in previous editions, the athletes chosen seemed to be relatively safe choices. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had earned praise as one of the best pass-catchers in the NFL well ahead of his Madden NFL cover debut, with a Super Bowl appearance and multiple single-season and franchise records already in hand by the time EA Sports approached him.

Similarly, Troy Polamalu was already a multiple Pro Bowl selection as a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers before his debut on the Madden NFL cover and had helped the Steelers win several Super Bowls, including the most recent one against Fitzgerald and the Cardinals the previous year.

The curse strikes

Fitzgerald is one of the first clear-cut examples of the Madden Curse generally missing its mark, as the wide receiver set several personal records throughout the 2009 season. He had a slight letdown in 2010 (due to the exit of longtime quarterback Kurt Warner) but still managed to put up impressive numbers both seasons. If there’s any effect of the curse to be seen, it’s that Fitzgerald was unable to play in the 2010 Pro Bowl due to a rib injury.

On the other hand, Polamalu seemed to take the full brunt of the Madden Curse. The defensive all-star sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the first half of Week 1 of the 2009 season and was forced to miss the next four games. He then played in three more games later that season, only to injure his posterior cruciate ligament in November. The Steelers would miss the playoffs that year and finish 9-7.

Madden NFL 2009

Brett Farve on the cover of Madden 09.

Cover athlete: Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers)

The road to the cover

EA Sports hoped to honor the career of one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks by putting Green Bay Packers veteran Brett Favre on the cover of Madden NFL 2009 after the celebrated passer announced his retirement from the league. The honor capped off one of the quarterback’s most accomplished seasons in the league as he broke multiple career milestones and solidified his legacy in the NFL record books with a phenomenal 2007 season. EA Sports announced its plans for the cover of the upcoming Madden NFL after a tear-filled retirement speech from Favre in March 2008.

The curse strikes

No sooner had the Madden NFL cover debuted with Favre in his Green Bay jersey than the quarterback suddenly decided that he wasn’t done with the league after all. Favre eventually signed with the New York Jets and had a relatively decent season — marred by off-field issues more than anything on the field — only to sustain an injury to his right shoulder late in the season that would plague him for the remaining three seasons leading up to his retirement (again) in 2011.

Madden NFL 2008

Vince Young on the cover of Madden 08.

Cover athletes: Vince Young (Tennessee Titans) & Luis Castillo (San Diego Chargers)

The road to the cover

After winning the BCS National Championship in stunning fashion for the University of Texas, Vince Young carried over his college success to the NFL with a fantastic rookie season that had him break just about every record a first-year quarterback could possibly break. The fleet-footed signal-caller led the Titans to multiple come-from-behind victories and was eventually named Offensive Rookie of the Year and later chosen for the Pro Bowl that season.

For the Spanish-language release of Madden NFL 2008, Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo was chosen as the game’s cover athlete after two seasons making a name for himself as one of the NFL’s fastest rising stars on the defensive side of the ball.

The curse strikes

Before either Young or Castillo being named as the cover athlete for Madden NFL, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was approached to be on the game’s cover. After a contingent of vocal Chargers fans initiated a campaign to keep him off the cover due to their fear of the Madden Curse, Tomlinson declined the offer from EA Sports, citing failed contract negotiations for his likeness. The developer than approached Young and Castillo.

After scoffing at the Madden Curse when he made the announcement on late-night television, Young had a slow start to the 2007 season, only to injure his quadricep in Week 6. He would miss the following week’s game — the first time he had ever missed a game due to injury. He would return later in the season only to reinjure himself in the final game of the season, opening the door for backup Kerry Collins to take the reins.

Young’s transition to a backup role was cemented the following season when he injured his knee in the first game of the 2008 season and Collins was named the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.

Proving that even the alternate versions of the game are subject to the Madden Curse, Castillo missed a significant portion of the 2007 season several months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete. Sidelined by a knee injury, he only played in 10 games that season.

Madden NFL 2007

Shaun Alexander on the cover of Madden 07.

Cover athlete: Shaun Alexander (Seattle Seahawks)

The road to the cover

Already an accomplished rusher and one of the primary cogs in the Seattle Seahawks offense, Shaun Alexander took his game to the next level in 2005 when he became the first running back in NFL history to record 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons and broke the franchise record for rushing. He also became the first player in NFL history to score 19 TDs rushing or receiving in only 10 games.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player that season, and led the Seahawks to an appearance in Super Bowl XL. Oh, and he also had the honor of becoming the first Seahawks player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, too.

The curse strikes

Seemingly indicating that the effect of the Madden Curse might be in direct proportion to your accomplishments, Alexander’s 2006 season was derailed by a broken foot in Week 3 — just a few months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete. The season would become his first without 1,000 yards rushing since he became a starter for the Seahawks.

Alexander’s abbreviated 2006 season was followed by an injury-plagued 2007 season that had him suffer a fractured wrist, sprained knee, and sprained ankle. The result was an even worse season, and Alexander was cut from the team’s roster in 2008. In the wake of all the injuries following his cover appearance, Alexander even addressed the Madden Curse, saying in a 2007 interview: “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?”

Madden NFL 2006

Donovan McNabb on the cover of Madden 06.

Cover athlete: Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles)

The road to the cover

The former Syracuse quarterback led the Philadelphia Eagles to multiple conference championships during his first five years in the NFL, and found success despite a less-than-stellar supporting cast of wide receivers for several of those seasons. (The 2003 Eagles have the dubious distinction of being the only NFL team in the modern era to go two months without a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass.) A dual threat running and passing, McNabb had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the team’s second Super Bowl in franchise history in 2004, earning him the nod for the upcoming Madden NFL cover honor.

The curse strikes

McNabb was on track for a huge year in 2005 when his season was derailed by a groin injury that sent him to the injured reserve list for the remainder of the season. He never quite recovered the following season, and in Week 11, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus in his right knee and was once again sidelined for the remainder of the season. The remainder of his time in the NFL would be marked by inconsistent performances and turmoil on and off the field, culminating in the end of his football career in 2011.

Madden NFL 2005

Ray Lewis on the cover of Madden 2005.

Cover athlete: Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens)

The road to the cover

One of the most feared defensive players in the league, Ray Lewis anchored a team that repeatedly won with its defense — and more specifically, with him leading the defense. The team had already won a Super Bowl in 2000, and Lewis was one of the primary reasons for the Ravens’ success, with seven seasons of more than 100 solo tackles to go along with multiple sacks, interceptions, and record-breaking defensive performances.

The curse strikes

While Lewis’ season following his debut as the Madden NFL 2005 cover athlete wasn’t exactly terrible, the usually reliable linebacker failed to record a single interception in the 2004 season — the first time that had ever happened in his long career. The Ravens also failed to make the playoffs for the first time in several years, and in Week 6 of the following season, Lewis tore his right hamstring, forcing him to end his season abruptly.

Madden NFL 2004

Michael Vick on the cover of Madden 2004

Cover athlete: Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons)

The road to the cover

One of the most electric players in the league, Michael Vick redefined the quarterback position during his early seasons, setting records for rushing yards by a quarterback while also setting a high standard for completion percentage and passing yards. While other quarterbacks had success running the football before Vick joined the league, the former Virginia Tech star raised the bar for mobile quarterbacks with almost 3,000 yards passing and 777 yards rushing during the 2002 season. He also led the Atlanta Falcons to an unexpected playoff victory that year.

The curse strikes

Just a short time after it was announced that Vick would be the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2004, Vick fractured his right fibula during a preseason game. The injury forced him to miss the first 11 games of the season.

Madden NFL 2003

Marshall Faulk on the cover of Madden 2003.

Cover athlete: Marshall Faulk (St. Louis Rams)

The road to the cover

Already a Super Bowl champion and a multiple-time winner of the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, Marshall Faulk was the centerpiece of an offense dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” when he was named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2003. He had led the Rams to a second Super Bowl just a season earlier and now held a cornucopia of rushing, receiving, and combined yardage records, and seemed poised to make another championship run in 2002.

The curse strikes

The season that unfolded after Faulk appeared on the Madden NFL cover would prove to be the beginning of the decline for one of the NFL’s most prolific running backs. The 2002 season would end up being the first he was unable to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and his yardage totals continued to decline in subsequent seasons. He eventually missed the entire 2006 season due to surgery on his knee, and never returned to the league.

Madden NFL 2002

Daunte Culpepper on the cover of Madden 2002.

Cover athlete: Daunte Culpepper (Minnesota Vikings)

The road to the cover

Former University of Central Florida star Daunte Culpepper found quick success in the NFL after being named the starting quarterback for the Vikings ahead of the 2000 season. He immediately led the team to an 11-5 record and the conference championship game on the strength of passing for almost 4,000 yards and rushing for nearly 500 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl, and began the 2001 season as one of the most celebrated young quarterbacks in the league, leading to his selection as the Madden NFL 2002 cover athlete midway through the season.

The curse strikes

Just a few months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete, Culpepper suffered a knee injury during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and had to miss the rest of the 2001 season. His performance deteriorated the following season when he threw 23 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns.

This would be one of the first years that the notion of the “Madden Curse” was widely referenced when discussing a player’s unexpectedly poor performance after being featured on the game’s cover.

Madden NFL 2001

Eddie George on the cover of Madden 2001.

Cover athlete: Eddie George (Tennessee Titans)

The road to the cover

The Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State University earned a reputation as one of the most reliable workhorses in the NFL during his nine-season career, and he entered the 2000 season saddled with high expectations after his team was defeated by the slimmest of margins in the previous year’s Super Bowl. George had rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of his four seasons thus far, and averaged over 3.7 yards per carry to lead the team.

The curse strikes

The ever-reliable George seemed like a safe bet to break the curse when he was named the Madden NFL 2001 cover athlete, and the jinx seemed destined to end when the Titans entered the playoffs as one of the most dominant teams in the NFL with George in the midst of a record-breaking season.

Nevertheless, a rare bobbled pass by George late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens led to an interception and a touchdown that ended the Titans’ otherwise stellar season. While George would remain in the NFL for four more seasons, he never ran for more than 1,200 yards in a season again and averaged less than 3.4 yards per carry for the remainder of his career.

Madden NFL 2000

Barry Sanders on the cover of Madden 2000.

Cover athletes: Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions) & Dorsey Levens (Green Bay Packers)

The road to the cover

Widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs of all time, Barry Sanders was voted to the Pro Bowl every season he was in the league, and in 1997 he became one of only three players to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season. He also became the first player to rush for over 1,500 yards in four consecutive seasons and finished the 1998 season with the third-highest career rushing yards in NFL history.

In contrast, Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens was a relative newcomer to the NFL spotlight before appearing on the Madden NFL cover. With only two seasons rushing for over 1,000 yards, Levens was a surprising choice for the game’s cover, but his appearance in the 1997 Pro Bowl after a 1,400-yard season had earned him recognition as one of the league’s fastest rising stars.

The curse strikes

Not too long after he was named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2000, Sanders announced his retirement from the NFL in a surprise move that left fans — and the league, by most accounts — reeling. While it’s not the most obvious evidence of a “curse,” Sanders’ unexpected exit from the league left a huge void in the Detroit roster, and there remains quite a bit of controversy (and mystery) surrounding the scenario that ended the career of one of the league’s greatest players.

With Sanders’ sudden departure, EA Sports promptly organized another cover starring up-and-coming player Levens, who had helped lead the Green Bay Packers to numerous playoff runs in recent seasons. The season after appearing on the cover would turn out to be his last on the starting roster; however, as an irritating and relentless injury restricted him in 1999 and Green Bay experienced their poorest record since Brett Favre joined the team as their quarterback in 1992. The Packers eventually discharged Levens in 2001.

Madden NFL 99

Garrison Hearst on the cover of Madden 1999.

Cover athlete: Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers)

The road to the cover

Upon joining the 49ers in 1997, the former University of Georgia running back established franchise records in 1998 for yards in a single season and collective rushing/receiving yards. He also is known for accomplishing one of the most longspun runs in NFL history. During this historical moment, Hearst earned the game-winning touchdown in overtime as the 49ers faced the New York Jets during the first game of the 1998 season.

The curse strikes

After he claimed the title of the first-ever cover athlete for the forthcoming edition of Madden NFL, Hearst led his team straight to the playoffs. Sadly, he suffered a terrible broken ankle in the second-round game versus the Atlanta Falcons. Post-surgery complications led to one of his foot bones dying, and early diagnosis showed that he might never return to the field again. Hearst missed the following two seasons while he was recovering from his unfortunate injury.

Editors' Recommendations

Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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