Everyone has heard of the “Madden Curse”. Madden being the popular EA Sports NFL video game, the curse being the unfortunate events that follow each years’ cover boy. It’s a growing superstition, especially as we enter a screen-obsessed generation and the curses’ list of victims continues to grow. I’m here to tell you it’s all bologna.
A strong case can be made that the curse does exist. In fact, over the last decade, 8 of the last 12 players to grace the cover have lost at least part of their follow-up seasons due to injury or, in one case, retirement. A handful of these athletes felt the sting of the supposed curse long after their Madden-worthy season, becoming the subjects of continued scrutiny (Brett Favre, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Vince Young), injury (Daunte Culpepper, Troy Polamalu), or declining careers (Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander).
When you look at the athletes that are chosen, though, 9 of the 12 were entering at least their fifth year in the league (and 7 of those 9 were entering at least their seventh year). Even the less knowledgeable fans know that NFL players get injured quite often and have short shelf lives. Marshall Faulk was in his ninth season when he injured his ankle in his follow-up year after being promoted on the cover, as was Ray Lewis (wrist, thigh). Shaun Alexander was playing his seventh year at a position where players are lucky to last four as starters (he already had six consecutive season with at least 250 carries).
Of the five quarterbacks that have been seen on the cover the last decade, three were only in their third year following their cover year (Michael Vick, Vince Young, Daunte Culpepper), but all are mobile quarterbacks, they run the ball, take beatings, and have had injury concerns from the first day were scouted. Donovan McNabb, on the cover for 2006, is also a mobile quarterback and was also entering his seventh season.
Injuries aren’t the only factor, such as in case with Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, and Brett Favre, some careers are just close to the finish. Barry Sanders retired from football, a decision many to this day still don’t understand, but it’s safe to say it had nothing to do with a curse of being on a video game cover. Marshall Faulk was an aging workhorse, and his days were numbered following his cover year which was also his eighth, circumstances similar to Shaun Alexander. Brett Favre had been in the league a whopping 16 seasons, and age, his physical condition, and an ugly divorce from his beloved home, all soiled his Madden-cover year and, in a way, tarnished his career.
So many of these athletes are selected based on popularity in the league, gained by playing well and being a top performer for many seasons (don’t ask me to explain the Peyton Hillis selection); but to meet the requirements for the honor to be the poster-boy for a game with such a large fan-base, it takes a huge, memorable season. So, how do you follow-up a season that defines your career? It’s tough, and when you have any short-comings, or any injuries, whether you miss three weeks or three months, it’s heavily scrutinized. So when fans are spoiled with heroic play, and have such high expectations for more, it’s disheartening to see those star athletes, those pillars of hope, miss games or fail to better their career season. It’s as if everything is going wrong, and it’s all because he was on the cover of that damn video game.