If you are a longtime fantasy football manager, odds are you have heard of the infamous “Madden Curse”. If you are unfamiliar with the NFL video game, in years past, the cover of the product was graced with John Madden in a variety of poses. Since 2001, however, the creators of the game opted to feature a starring and/or popular player from the previous year.
Because the game is released just prior to the start of the season it is covering (e.g. Madden 2013 will be released at the end of this month, featuring the ’12-’13 season), this superstition dictates that the player appearing on the cover will be afflicted with the “Madden curse”, and go on to have a sub-par, or occasionally nonexistent season. Let’s break down the history of the game’s cover, and see how the supposed “honor” has treated those who have held it.
*For classification, players who attribute to the validity of the Madden Curse will be listed in red, those who are neutral in green, and those who discredit it in blue.
- 2000: Barry Sanders/Dorsey Levens - As shown above, the cover of Madden 2000 was the first in which a player was integrated into the game packaging, albeit in a background role. More observant viewers will quickly identify this player as Barry Sanders, who went on to announce his extremely unanticipated retirement prior to training camp, catching the Lions completely off-guard. Quick thinkers at EA sports managed to swap out that cover for one of Dorsey Levens, a mainstay in a juggernaut Green Bay team that had recently been enjoying tremendous success. Following that, Levens was hampered by injury, and the Packers nosedived to their worse record in over 8 years, which happened to be 8-8. Not a good start.
- 2001: Eddie George – Following his appearance on the 2001 edition of the game, Eddie George went on to actually have his best season ever statistically. He did however, bobble a pass against the Ravens which Ray Lewis intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the playoffs. While this does not fall in line with the superstition, following this year Eddie went on to have his worst season ever.
- 2002: Daunte Culpepper - After having a very impressive rookie season, Culpepper struggled, throwing only 14 TD’s and 13 INT’s, as well as getting injured and missing the final 5 games as the Vikings lost their playoff hopes behind a hugely disappointing 5-11 record.
- 2003: Marshall Faulk – Similar to Culpepper, Faulk had just come off of a tremendous season, totaling over 2000 total yards and 21 TD’s. After appearing on the cover, both of those numbers essentially were halved; largely due to Faulk being hampered by injury all year long, and the Rams crashed out of the playoffs.
- 2004: Michael Vick – Attempted a meaningless scramble, in a meaningless preseason game which resulted in him breaking his leg the day after the game was released. Missed 11 games that year, and was atrocious in the ones he did play in.
- 2005: Ray Lewis – Similar to many on this list, was coming off one of his best career seasons. His performance following his cover appearance, though was largely unaffected. Granted he did miss one game due to injury and accumulate 16 less tackles than the prior year, he was nonetheless selected 1st team All-Pro. He was nagged by a hamstring injury which kept him out most of the season the year following his “Curse year”, but went on to make four subsequent Pro Bowls following that.
- 2006: Donovan McNabb – Got into a heated, media-fueled clash with T.O., was hampered by a groin problem which caused him to miss close to half the season, and suffered terribly production wise while the Eagles struggled to a 6-10 finish.
- 2007: Shaun Alexander - Following an MVP season, suffered from a broken foot, only 900 yards, 7 TD’s, and a career high in fumbles. Never was the same in subsequent seasons, and fell off the face of the earth a couple years after this disaster.
- 2008: Vince Young - In his sophomore season the Titans did manage to make the playoffs but Vince Young had a terrible season, from a fantasy perspective at least. 9 TD’s, 17 INT’s, and a hard drop in his rushing stats culminated with the Titans crashing out of the playoffs behind a disappointing Vince Young-performance. Since that year he has struggled, both on and off the field, and currently finds himself in a backup role with teams seemingly unwilling to give him a chance to start.
- 2009: Brett Favre - While appearing on the cover in a Packers jersey, Favre was traded to the Jets just prior to the release of the video game. Went on to a hot start, but the Jets nosedived late in the season, just missing the playoffs as Favre threw only 2 TD’s and 9 INT’s, while struggling with a bicep injury. Despite this, went on to have a career season the following year at Minnesota.
- 2010: Troy Polamalu/Larry Fitzgerald - This year was a split, featuring the two stars clashing on the cover. Following their appearances, Troy went on to be hampered by injury as the Superbowl-champion Steelers failed to make the playoffs. Fitzgerald however, went on to have a perfectly fine season in which he hauled in over 100 balls for a career high in TD’s.
- 2011: Drew Brees - Had a perfectly fine season following his appearance on the cover, throwing for over 4,500 yards while remaining injury-free.
- 2012: Peyton Hillis - Coming off a breakout season in which he rushed for over 1200 yards and added close to 500 more in the air, said he did not believe in the curse. Went on to struggle with injury all season long, totaling 587 yards.
- 2013: Calvin Johnson
Out of 15 players to appear on the game’s cover since the year 2000, 11 of them have gone on to have hugely disappointing followup seasons. Out of those 11, eight have never, (or have not yet had) another season in keeping with their level of play before the Madden appearance. Similarly, only four of the 15 have gone on to have a subsequent season of any worth from a fantasy perspective (three if you don’t count Ray Lewis). Regardless of whether you are superstitious or not, the numbers are hard to ignore.