Legend: Players whose pictures grace the covers of
Origins: We often use superstition to help us understand unusual patterns that have no logical explanation, and to help us assert some feeling of regulation over phenomena we cannot control. Not surprisingly, superstition is something we see regularly in the world of
come up short of winning championships for decades on end, why some players suddenly experience precipitous drop-offs in performance, or why a particularly good player makes the bad play that ends his team’s championship hopes? With the application of superstition, all is explainable; we can attribute these kinds of events to factors such as “the Curse of the Bambino,” the “sophomore jinx,” or a player’s unwise decision to wear a jersey bearing the number 13.
In recent years we’ve seen the rise of several similiar superstitions that tie star athletes’ experiencing poor performance and/or serious injuries to their recently having been recognized with singular honors. First was the
It is to that last phenomenon which we now turn our attention. The “Madden Curse” refers to the popular
annually to incorporate new and improved features and rosters based on current NFL players. For the first eleven years the game’s packaging featured the smiling visage of John Madden; starting with the 2001 version and continuing for the last seven years, the box front has presented an action graphic of a selected NFL star. According to a superstition based upon a pattern occurring over the last several years, whichever player signs a deal to appear on the cover of the next version of Madden NFL will suffer a serious injury (or some other stroke of bad luck), resulting in a disappointing performance during the forthcoming NFL season.
The following is a list of the players who have graced the covers of Madden NFL over the years, and the circumstances involving them that have contributed to the development of the “Madden Curse” superstition. To clarify some nomenclature, we’ll point out that NFL seasons (including playoffs) span calendar years (from Aug./Sep. to the following Jan./Feb.), and the title of each version of
- 2000: The 2000 edition of
Madden NFLwas a gentle easing-in to the curse. This was the last edition of the game to feature a photograph of John Madden on the front of the box (as all previous editions had done), but it also included a background picture of the Detroit Lions’ star running back (and future NFL Hall of Famer) Barry Sanders.As events turned out, Sanders didn’t play a single down during the 1999-2000season (or ever again), shocking the Lions by abruptly announcing his retirement and ending his ten-yearcareer just before the start of training camp that summer.
Since Barry Sanders quit well before the start of the 1999 regular season,
EA Sportshad enough time to substitute a different graphic on the packaging of later shipments of Madden NFL 2000.The newer covers replaced the Madden/Sanders combination with a picture of Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens,who spearheaded a Packers team that had just played in three straight NFC Championship Games and back-to-back Super Bowls. Although Levens performed reasonably well in 1999, he was bothered by a bad knee that he had re-injuredthe previous year, and Green Bay finished out of the playoff picture with a so-so 8-8record. Levens was used only in a reserve role after that, and the Packers released him at the end of the 2001 season.
- 2001: The 2001 cover of Madden NFL featured Tennessee Titans running back
Eddie George,who the previous year had led his team to the Super Bowl (where they came up just short against the St. LouisRams). Although George enjoyed his best season ever (in terms of yards gained rushing and touchdowns scored) in 2000, he bobbled a pass (that was subsequently intercepted and returned for a touchdown) in the Titans’ season-ending Divisional Playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and the following season, hampered by injuries, he saw his rushing average sink to an all-time low.
- 2002: The 2002 cover of Madden NFL featured Minnesota Vikings quarterback
Daunte Culpepper,who the previous year had made an impressive NFL debut in taking his team to the NFC Championship Game (which they lost to the New York Giants). In 2001, however, the Vikings struggled to a disappointing 4-7record before Culpepper suffered a knee injury and missed the last five games of the year (while Minnesota finished the season a dismal 5-11).
- 2003: The 2003 cover of Madden NFL featured St. Louis Rams running back
Marshall Faulk,whose rushing and receiving prowess had led his team to the Super Bowl twice in the previous three years. But Faulk was plagued by an injured ankle during the 2002 season, his yards gained rushing total dropped under the 1,000 mark (after four straight seasons of 1300+ yards), and the Rams missed the playoffs with a disappointing 7-9record.
- 2004: The 2004 cover of Madden NFL featured Atlanta Falcons quarterback
Michael Vick,who in 2002 (his first season as a starter) took a team with a dismal 16-32record over the previous three years and led them to a respectable 9-6-1finish and a spot in the NFL playoffs as a Wild Card entry. In 2003, though, Vick suffered a fractured right fibula in a pre-season game one day after Madden NFL 2004hit store shelves; he played in only five games that year as the Falcons sank to a lowly 5-11record.
- 2005: The 2005 cover of Madden NFL featured Baltimore Ravens linebacker
Ray Lewis,who had recorded a career-high six interceptions in 2003 as his team reached the post-season for the third time in four years. But in 2004, Lewis failed (for the only time in his NFL career) to record even a single interception and sat out the final game of the season with an injury as the Ravens just missed qualifying for the playoffs at 9-7, and in 2005 he suffered a torn right hamstring in Baltimore’s sixth game and missed the rest of the season as the Ravens dropped to 6-10.
- 2006: The 2006 cover of Madden NFL featured Philadelphia Eagles quarterback
Donovan McNabb,under whom the Eagles had amassed a superb 59-21regular season record and made five straight playoff appearances in the previous five years, the last of which culminated in an NFC Championship and a Super Bowl match-upagainst the New England Patriots (which Philadelphia lost by three points). After he was selected for the 2006 Madden NFLcover, McNabb flouted the curse by saying that the injuries associated with it “might be a trend, but I don’t believe in the curse at all.” True to form, McNabb suffered a sports herniain the first game of the 2005 season. He played on for another eight games despite the painful injury, but after being re-injuredin a contest against the Dallas Cowboys, he finally opted for surgery and missed the final seven games of the season as the Eagles finished last in the NFC East.
- 2007: The 2007 cover of Madden NFL featured Seattle Seahawks running back
Shaun Alexander,whose 5.1 yardsper carry rushing average in 2005 spurred the Seahawks to their best season ever and their first Super Bowl appearance. Three weeks into the 2006 season, Alexander broke his left foot in a game against the New York Giants and missed his team’s next six games. The Seahawks made the playoffs but lost to the Chicago Bears in the second (divisional) round.
- 2008: The 2008 cover of Madden NFL featured Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback
Vince Young,who skipped his senior year in college to enter the NFL after leading the University of Texas Longhorns to a national championship and was selected #3 inin the 2006 draft. Young hurt the quadriceps in his right leg during the Titans’ fifth game of the 2007 season and didn’t participate in Tennessee’s game against the Houston Texans the following week, marking the first time in his career (including middle school, high school, college, and the NFL) that an injury kept him from playing,
As we explain at length in our article about the Campbell’s Chunky Soup curse, such superstitions are in a sense inevitable. Players are generally selected for honors when they’re at the pinnacles of their
Last updated: 21 October 2007
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