The Madden Curse

09/16/2009 § Leave a comment

In August, EA Sports released the latest edition of their absurdly popular game franchise known simply as “Madden.”  Perhaps out of a sense of fairness, deference to a thrilling and competitive Super Bowl, or an attempt to taunt fate, the newest cover featured two athletes for the first time since Garrison Hearst graced the 1998 game (which would be Madden 99, as the games are titled for the following year).  Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald shared the space, maybe figuring that their juxtaposition would cancel out the effect of the curse.

Oops.

While it is still early, there are some signs that the curse is already at work with these two superstars.  In the Cardinals first game, Fitzgerald averaged 11.8 yards per catch.  That’s not a bad number, but if he keeps up that pace, it will be his lowest ypc output since joining the league, and the first year that his average has dropped in that category.

Things are even worse for Polamalu.  Early in the Steelers first game–the first game of the NFL season, in fact–he left the game with a sprained MCL and is expected to miss several weeks.  The long-term effect of this injury remains to be seen, but history shows that Madden cover athletes tend to have a production drop (often due to injury) for that season and that their teams overall have disappointing seasons.

In 1998, some versions of the Madden NFL game featured the standard picture of John Madden himself on the cover, just like all previous editions had.  However, a few versions featured Garrison Hearst.  That season, Hearst suffered a broken ankle in a playoff game against the Falcons.  He missed two full seasons due to the injury.  (Final Team Record: 8-8)

In 1999, the cover featured Madden prominently again, but also included an inset of Barry Sanders.  Sanders abruptly retired in July.  (Final Team Record: 8-8)

Later copies of the 1999 game were revised to feature Dorsey Levens as Sanders’ replacement.  Levens had a decent season, but was bothered by a recurring knee problem.  (Final Team Record: 8-8)

The 2000 cover featured bruising running back Eddie George.  George turned in the best season of a Madden cover athlete so far, rushing for over 1500 yards.  However, he did bobble a pass that was intercepted, leading to a playoff loss to the Ravens.  The following year, his numbers dwindled to an all-time low.  (Final Team Record: 13-3, Following Year Record: 7-9)

Dynamic QB Daunte Culpepper appeared on the 2001 game and missed 5 games with a knee injury.  His passing numbers dropped by 1300 yards and 19 TDs.  (Final Team Record: 5-11)

In 2002, Rams RB Marshall Faulk got the nod and was plagued by an injured ankle.  After 4 straight 1300+ yard seasons, Faulk turned in fewer than 1000.  (Final Team Record: 7-9)

Possibly the creepiest entry of all, the 2003 edition featured athletic QB Michael Vick.  The day after the game was released, Vick suffered a fractured right fibula in a preseason game and played in just 5 games for the Falcons.  (Final Team Record: 5-11)

In 2004, Ravens star LB Ray Lewis appeared on the cover and while he only missed a single game, he failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.  (Final Team Record: 9-7)

The Eagles’ Donovan McNabb was the 2005 choice and, he actually commented on injuries to past coverboys, acknowledging them as a trend, but denying the existence of a curse.  He suffered a hernia in the first game, and attempted to play for eight more weeks before finally deciding to have surgery, missing the remainder of the season.  (Final Team Record: 6-10)

The 2006 cover featured Shaun Alexander, who missed the first 6 games with a broken foot.  Despite a career yards per carry average of 4.4, Alexander only managed 3.6 ypc in 2006.  (Final Team Record: 9-7)

In 2007, Vince Young appeared on the cover and threw for 9 TDs and 17 INTs.  Young also missed a football game due to injury for the first time in his life.  The Titans lost to the Chargers in the playoffs.  (Final Team Record: 10-6)

For their 2008 cover, EA decided to honor recently-retired iron-man Packers QB Brett Favre.  Favre then unretired and signed with the Jets.  After an 8-3 start, Favre injured his throwing arm and the Jets won just one more game and did not make the playoffs.  (Final Team Record: 9-7)

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