In 1988, EA Sports released its first instalment of the now infamous Madden video games. The game was originally called John Madden Football after none other than Hall of Fame coach and color commentator John Madden. Because of Madden's experience and reputation in the NFL, the game’s goal was to be as realistic as possible. Since its release, it has become one of the best-selling video games of all time.
Prior to 1999, every version of the Madden video game had John Madden on the cover. In 1999, the games started to feature an individual player with each new instalment. It was considered to be a great honor to be on the cover of the game. However, for some strange reason, any player who appeared on the game’s cover seemed to suffer a poor performance during the next season. This could be due to injury or just an increase in production.
The way EA sports releases the games is important to note, otherwise this could get confusing. The year of the game is not the year of the season in which it is going to be release. The years on the games are always one year ahead of the season. Therefore, Madden NFL 2003 was released in 2002. All the stats in the game and the decision as to which player goes on the cover are based on the season prior to this. Going along with the previous example, EA Sports would select the featured player for the cover based on his performance during the 2001 season.
The “Madden Curse” as it has come to be known is believed to be very real. Since 1999, over 15 players have appeared on the cover. Only two of them have not had a bad year. Of those two, one of them shared the covered with another player who ended up getting injured. The odds seem to be in the favor of the people who buy into the curse. It became so feared, that people began place bets in Las Vegas on the likelihood of injury to the featured player. Many fantasy football fans went out and protested the possibility of LaDainian Tomlinson appearing on the cover one year. Tomlinson never made an appearance of the game’s cover, but said it was due to contract disputes with the company.
The last installment released was Madden NFL 25, in honor of the games 25th anniversary. EA Sports decided to place retired Lions’ running back Barry Sanders on the cover. This way nobody would get hurt.
10 Drew Brees - Madden NFL 11
After another tremendous season in 2009, Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, was selected to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 11. This announcement came just shortly after Brees had led his Saints to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV. He was named the MVP of that game. In the 2010 season, the star quarterback nearly doubled his number of interceptions from the season before and his passer rating dropped an astonishing twenty points. The Saints did make the playoffs that season, but were defeated by the Seahawks in the Wildcard round. The Seahawks were the first team in the history of the NFL to make the playoffs after posting a losing record in the regular season.
9 Vince Young - Madden NFL 08
The Madden Curse did not affect Vince Young right away. Young appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 08; after winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2006. His 2007 season was just as good as his first year in the league. Young did miss one game during the 2007 season. However, it was not until 2008 when things started really going downhill for the Titans’ quarterback. He would suffer long-term injuries in both 2008 and 2010. In 2011, Vince Young was released by the Titans due to both injuries and his inability to cooperate with the coaching staff. Since then, he has suited up for the Eagles and Bills. This past season, he was a member of the Packers’ practice squad, but was eventually cut by the team.
8 Troy Polamalu - Madden NFL 10
The cover of Madden NFL 10 was shared by Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald following the Steelers and Cardinals meeting in Super Bowl XLIII. When the announcement was made that the two would share the cover, people who believe in the curse thought the two would either equally share in its devastating effects. Larry Fitzgerald followed up his great play in 2009 with another trip to the Pro Bowl. Troy Polamalu was not so fortunate. The Steelers’ star safety missed the beginning of the season with a torn MCL. He later would miss more time to an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament.
7 Shaun Alexander - Madden NFL 07
Shaun Alexander was an absolute beast in 2005. He broke Priest Holmes’ record for most touchdowns in a single season. After his MVP year, it was announced Alexander would be featured on the cover of Madden NFL 07. That year he would miss six starts due to a foot injury. His career never got back on track. When Alexander was asked about if he felt being on the cover of Madden had anything to do with his injury he answered “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?” Obviously, Alexander does not believe in curses.
6 Daunte Culpepper - Madden NFL 2002
Daunte Culpepper took over as starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings after a few years with Randall Cunningham under center. Culpepper inherited one of the league’s most dynamic duos of wide receivers in history, Chris Carter and Randy Moss. Culpepper performed very well in his early days as the Vikings quarterback and led the team to the playoffs in 2001. He then appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2002. His performance greatly suffered that season. He not only threw 23 interceptions, but also tied the NFL’s single season record for most fumbles. His performance briefly rebounded in 2004. Unfortunately, from 2005 to 2006, Culpepper would blow out both of his knees and would never be the same again.
5 Brett Favre - Madden NFL 09
Luckily, Brett Favre’s career was already over by the time he was put on the cover of Madden NFL 09. At least that is what everyone thought. The retired quarterback appeared on the cover in his Green Bay Packers uniform. However, Favre came out of retirement during the offseason and joined the New York Jets. Favre had one of the worst seasons of his entire career with his new team. His stats were poor and he suffered an ankle injury late in the season. He would also be brought up in sexual harassment allegations during the course of the season. Following his single season with the Jets, the NFL’s all-time leading passer would sign with the Minnesota Vikings and experience one of his best seasons as a pro. His time with the Vikings was cut short though, due to a career-ending shoulder injury.
4 Peyton Hillis - Madden NFL 12
In 2010, Brown’s running back Peyton Hillis looked like he was going to be the NFL’s next big star. He ran for 1,177 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. EA Sports choose him to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 12. His 2012 season was very lackluster. His offseason was plagued with a contract dispute between him and the Brown’s front office. The hold out would last two games, but did serious damage within the Browns’ locker room. Once he returned to the field, his number would decline each week, until a hamstring injury would place him on the sideline. Since the 2011 season, Peyton Hillis has suited up for three different teams and was unable to collect 1,000 rushing yards with all three of them combined.
3 Donovan McNabb - Madden NFL 06
Following a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb would become the Madden Curse’s next victim. He was selected to be on the cover of Madden NFL 2006. His season started with a sports hernia that had lagged all throughout training camp. He was also the center of a media frenzy that placed him versus Eagles’ wide receiver Terrell Owens. The McNabb and Owens controversy destroyed the Eagles’ locker room. The team would follow up the Super Bowl run with a 6-10 season. McNabb ended up tearing his ACL in a game against the Tennessee Titans on a play where he was attempting to get out of bounds. The star quarterback would never bring his team to the NFC Championship game again, after having led them to five already.
2 Garrison Hearst - Madden NFL 99
This is where it all started. Garrison Heart was the first victim of the Madden Curse. He appeared on the Cover of Madden NFL 1999. Prior to the 1998 season, Hearst rushed for league leading 1,570 yards and scored nine touchdowns. In 1999, he suffered a broken leg that would sideline him for all of the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He came back in 2001 and rushed for over 1,200 yards. Hearst was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year that season.
1 Michael Vick - Madden NFL 2004
The Madden Curse still has not forgiven Michael Vick. Vick was considered to be one of the most amazing players the NFL had ever seen. He had lightning fast speed and a very strong arm. He could make plays nobody ever imagined would come out of a quarterback. After leading the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC Championship Game in 2002, Vick was placed on the cover of Madden NFL 2004. During a preseason matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, he suffered a horrible injury to his fibula and would miss the entire season. Only a few years later, the quarterback would spend time in prison in connection to dog fighting. After his release, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles. This past year he would be replaced early in the season by Nick Foles. Vick was released by the Eagles this offseason and has since signed with the New York Jets. Who knows how the curse is going to affect him this year? Hopefully, the worst of it is over.