The Madden video game franchise has been a fan favorite for 20 years. Because it’s the most popular football game around, being on its cover is an honor. Each year, the sport’s best (or at least most popular) players are chosen. This has included everyone from future Hall of Famers to talented newcomers.
The first video game to bear Madden’s name was released way back in 1988, called John Madden Football. But it didn’t sport an athlete on the cover, only Madden himself. An actual player didn’t grace the cover for more than a decade.
Perhaps replacing Madden’s rosy-cheeked face upset the cosmos; the Madden Curse was born. Every cover athlete has fallen on hard times after the game’s release, but many players and gamers deny its existence. After all, football is a rough sport by nature. Players are bound to have a tough year now and again. Right?
- Madden NFL ’99
Player: Garrison Hearst
Position: Running Back, San Fransisco 49ers
Garrison Hearst closed out the 1998 season with an impressive record, racking up 1,570 rushing yards. That was enough to set a new franchise record, and his position as one of the league’s premiere running backs earned him the first ever Madden cover. During a scrimmage in early January 1999, however, Hearst suffered a gruesome ankle fracture. He didn’t play a single game in the 1999 or 2000 seasons. He ended his career in 2004 without ever again coming close to his 1998 record.
- Madden NFL 2000
Player: Barry Sanders / Dorsey Levens
Position: Running Back, Detroit Lions / Running Back, Green Bay Packers
The 2000 cover actually featured two different players. The first player chosen was prolific running back Barry Sanders, who closed out the 1999 season just short of the NFL’s all-time rushing record. He was expected to break it in 2000, but just before the start of summer training camp, Sanders inexplicably retired. He never played again, but he was inducted into the hall of fame in 2004.
Early shipments of Madden NFL 2000 were stuck with the Sanders cover, so EA substituted Dorsey Levens in later shipments (mostly destined for Europe). Levens, however, had a dismal 2000 season. He only played in five games due to a bad knee injury from the previous season, and was released from the Packers in 2001. He played three more seasons with other teams, but mostly in a backup role.
Verdict: Sanders — Escaped, Levens — Cursed
- Madden NFL ’01
Player: Eddie George
Position: Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Eddie George won the Heisman Trophy in his college career at Ohio State University. In the 2000 season he helped lead the Titans to the Super Bowl. The 2001 season, however, was a different story. He didn’t suffer major injury, but for some reason, his stats took a major hit. For the first time in his NFL career, he failed to break 1,200 yards rushing. He racked up a weak 939 yards, and hit a career high for fumbles, the majority of which resulted in turnovers. He was never again able to match his pre-Madden performance.
- Madden NFL ’02
Player: Daunte Culpepper
Position: Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Daunte Culpepper was a very talented athlete. After college, he had a tough time choosing between professional baseball and football; the New York Yankees showed serious interest, but Culpepper chose football. Not a bad choice, considering that in 2000, he led the Vikings to the NFC Championship.
Madden NFL ’02 hit store shelves in August of 2001. He suffered a knee injury just four months later. He struggled with the injury throughout the 2002 season and threw a career high 23 interceptions.
- Madden NFL ’03
Player: Marshall Faulk
Position: Running Back, St. Louis Rams
Before Madden, Marshall Faulk racked up some impressive stats, winning the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award three years in a row. He made NFL history by breaking 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season; Faulk is one of only two players to do so. He also led the Rams to two consecutive Super Bowls.
Madden NFL ’03 hit shelves in August of 2002. Faulk played his worst season ever that year, and his performance got progressively worse every year thereafter. In his final season, Faulk didn’t play a single game.
- Madden NFL ’04
Player: Michael Vick
Position: Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Michael Vick was a quality pick for the Falcons. He wasn’t the teams starting quarterback at first, but he quickly made an impression and became the team’s full-time starter in his second season.
Madden NFL ’04 was released on August 11th, 2003. Just five days later, Vick broke his fibula in a pre-season game. He would miss the first eleven games of the regular season, but in 2004, Vick signed a 10-year contract for $130 million, making him highest payed player in history at the time.
Verdict: Temporarily Cursed
- Madden NFL ’05
Player: Ray Lewis
Position: Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
Ray Lewis was the first (and only) defensive player to be selected for a Madden cover. He was one of the best linebackers to play the game: between 1998 and 2001, the Ravens racked up 51 games where the opponent failed to rush 100 yards. Lewis broke his wrist in late 2004, and for the first and only time in his career, he didn’t make a single interception that season. Various other injuries hampered his 2005 season as well. That year he recorded, the worst stats of his career.
- Madden NFL ’06
Player: Donovan McNabb
Position: Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to the playoffs five years in a row before the release of Madden NFL ’06, including a Super Bowl match against the New England Patriots in 2004. In late 2005, McNabb had to end his season early due to a hernia. He didn’t fair much better in 2006. With six games left in the regular season, he injured his knee, but he was back on his feet in 2007. He then posted some of the better numbers of his career.
Verdict: Slightly Cursed
- Madden NFL ’07
Player: Shaun Alexander
Position: Running Back, Seattle Seahawks
In 2005, Shaun Alexander helped the Seahawks reach their first ever Super Bowl in one of the team’s best seasons ever. In 2006, he was chosen for the Madden NFL ’07 cover; this wasn’t his first EA Sports cover, as he was also featured on the cover of NCAA Football ’01.
Three weeks into the 2006 season, he fractured his foot and would miss much of that season. Alexander was released by the Seahawks at the end of 2007. He’s yet to sign with another team, and carries the stigma of being injury prone.
- Madden NFL ’08
Player: Vince Young
Position: Quarterback, Tennessee Titans
In his junior year at the University of Texas, Vince Young led the Longhorns to a national championship. The University of Texas is even planing to retire Young’s number during the 2008 season. He skipped his senior year of college to join the NFL, but during the fifth game of the 2007 season, he injured his right leg and had to sit out the team’s next game; he hadn’t missed a game due to injury since middle school.
Young’s 2008 season has just begun.
Verdict: Too Early to Tell
- Madden NFL ’09
Player: Brett Favre
Position: Quarterback, New York Jets
Brett Favre has one of the most impressive careers in football. His records include: most passing yards, most completions, most career touchdown passes, and most victories as a starting quarterback, to name a few. He was chosen as the Madden ’09 cover athlete, and then he, like Barry Sanders, promptly retired. Then he didn’t retire. Then he was traded from the Packers to the Jets. Is that evidence of a coming curse?
Verdict: Wait and See