The NFL season is fast approaching, and along with it comes Fantasy Football ads, the release of the annual Madden game, and debates about the Madden Curse. There are plenty of urban legends revolving around video games, but they are usually of no consequence to sports fans. The Madden Curse, however, is a pretty big deal.

The history of the curse is straight forward. John Madden football has been released annually since the dawn of time (give or take). In 1999 Electronic Arts began to feature standout NFL players on the cover of the game. This was done to help build hype for the game with fans, and to help recognize player excellence.

This was all well and good until players who appeared on the cover started to see a significant drop in performance OR a significant injury during the following year. There are very few things for well documented and analyzed that football statistics (for better or worse) so it was pretty easy to see the trend after a few years… thus the curse was born.

I went ahead and compiled a handy list that will illustrate just how bad the curse has been over the years. Yikes!

  • Madden NFL 1999
    • Garrion Hearst of the San Francisco 49ers
      • Broke his ankle badly during the season. Would not play again until 2001.
  • madden-2001-coverMadden NFL 2000
    • Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions in the background
      • Abruptly retired that year.
  • Madden NFL 2001
    • Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans
      • Suffered a nagging toe injury during the following year. Never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry again.
  • Madden NFL 2002
    • Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings
      • Struggled with turnovers for the first 11 games. Season ended with a back injury.
  • Madden NFL 2003
    • Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams
      • Suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss five games. Was never the same again.
  • Madden NFL 2004
    • Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons
      • Broke his right fibula 5 days after the game was released (in the pre-season)
  • madden-2005-coverMadden NFL 2005
    • Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens
      • First season without an interception and Ravens failed to make the playoffs.
  • Madden NFL 06
    • Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles
      • Suffered a sports hernia, elected to have season ending surgery after their season was already lost.
  • Madden NFL 07
    • Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks
      • Broke a bone in his foot and missed six starts. Was never the same again.
  • Madden NFL 08
    • Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans
      • Missed a game after a quad strain in October of that season. Lost his starting job the next year.
  • Madden NFL 09
    • Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers / Brett Favre of the New York Jets (alternative cover)
      • Brett was put on the cover to celebrate his Hall of Fame career after he retired. But, he promptly “un-retired” and was traded to the Jets. He later tore a tendon in his shoulder and the Jets missed the playoffs.
  • Madden NFL 10
    • Troy Polamaluof the Pittsburgh Steelers and Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals
      • Troy hurt his MCL twice during the season.  Larry was not hurt badly (although he did miss one game).
  • madden-10-boxMadden NFL 11
    • Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints
      • Hurt his knee and was forced to wear a brace throughout the year. The Saints made the playoffs, but lost to the 7-9 Seahawks.
  • Madden NFL 12
    • Peyton Hillis of the Cleveland Browns
      • Played in only 10 games. He missed time to a variety of injuries and illnesses such as a strain to his hamstring, Strep throat, and a hip injury.
  • Madden NFL 13
    • Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions
      • Avoided the curse by catching 122 passes for 1,964 receiving yards.
  • Madden NFL 25
    • Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions (Xbox 360 and PS3), Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (Xbox One and PS4)
      • Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges and was suspended after game one.  He did not play the rest of the season.
  • madden-15-coverMadden NFL 15
    • Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks
      • Spent the off season recovering from Tommy John surgery.  He seems to have avoided the curse as he had another Pro Bowl season.
  • Madden NFL 16
    • Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants
      • Beckham avoided the curse tallying 96 receptions, 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
  • Madden NFL 17
    • Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots
      • Only the future knows…

Hey! It looks like it’s getting better!

This is true. The curse was almost automatic in the early years as just about everyone suffered from an injury to a significant drop in production, but recent years have shown that players aren’t completely doomed. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson nearly exceeded 2,000 receiving yards after his appearance.

This means that Patriots fans MIGHT be able to breathe easier this year even though star Tight End Rob Gronkowski is the 2017 cover athlete! (maybe)

What does it mean?

At the end of the day, the Madden Curse had very little impact on the world aside from giving sports writers (and games journalists) something more to write about. Players have largely written it off as superstition when asked about it. For example, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks (a cover athlete) has been quoted as saying he believes in God, not curses. This sentiment has been echoed by other cover athletes over the years. The reality is that football is a violent game and injuries are very common. So common, in fact, that the average NFL career is just over three years. Many of these guys have long since accepted that reality and appreciate the added notoriety and prestige that comes with being on the cover of the game.

Madden has been a fixture in gamer culture for more than 25 years. So the vast majority of the NFL greats right now have grown up playing the game. Who WOULDN’T want to be on the cover of a game they played so much as a kid?

The curse isn’t meaningless though!

Superstitions may not play a role in day to day life for NFL players, but they can play a huge role in other areas. Fantasy Football, for example is a HUGE deal in the United States. Millions of players  draft a fake team of NFL players and compete for cash or bragging rights with their friends. I am one of those millions. I am also one of the people who simply will not draft the Madden Cover Athlete in a Fantasy league. Why? Maybe it’s because I’m crazy. Anyone can look at the list above and see that things are getting better, but I just can’t help but feel worried. Is it irrational? Sure. But, it’s part of the fantasy football process. I’m not alone either. Fantasy football analysts (Yes, those exist) dedicate time each year to telling people to ignore the curse and draft these highly valuable players.

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