Madden NFL, originally John Madden Football, is a video game series that came out three decades ago. The yearly installment of the game has become an annual purchase for many, as it has become one of the most popular and highly-anticipated games yearly. Besides the obvious gameplay that fans look forward to, they also anticipate and even bet on who makes the cover each year. Along with the cover athlete, however, has brought what we now call the Madden Curse.
Madden NFL began putting players on the cover with Madden NFL 2000, and ever since then, the cover athlete has fallen into some bad luck or something unfortunate happens. The Madden Curse has been documented for the past couple decades, but how real is it? Let’s take a look at every cover athlete since Madden NFL 2000.
Madden NFL 2000 (1999)
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions
Sanders is one of the greatest running backs ever, but his unexpected and controversial retirement came in July 1999, meaning he never set foot on the field after landing on “Madden.” His departure was so shocking that EA used the Packers’ Dorsey Levens for the cover of an alternative and European version of the game, which was a slap in the face to many Lions fans.
Madden NFL 2001 (2000)
Eddie George, Tennessee Titans
George rushed for more than 1,500 yards in his cover year, but also lost a career-high number of fumbles, coughed up the ball in the Titans’ season-ending playoff game and never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry for the rest of his career.
Madden NFL 2002 (2001)
Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings
After throwing 33 touchdowns and going 11-5 as a first-time starter in 2000, Culpepper took a nosedive during his cover season. Injuries wiped out six games, he fumbled 16 times, threw just 14 touchdowns compared to 13 picks, and went 4-7 in his starts.
Madden NFL 2003 (2002)
Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams
After five straight 1,000-yard seasons and three straight 1,300-yard years, Marshall Faulk’s cover year was a letdown. He missed six starts and failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards, a bar he never reached again.
Madden NFL 2004 (2003)
Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
Michael Vick was one of the most overpowered players in sports video game history in this edition of Madden NFL. On the field, however, Vick fractured his fibula in a preseason game, causing him to miss the first 11 games of the season. Just a few seasons later, Vick found himself in jail.
Madden NFL 2005 (2004)
Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
In his cover year, Ray Lewis failed to record a single interception, which was the first time he failed to do so. The Ravens also missed the playoffs, but it wasn’t a terrible season for him overall. However, Lewis did tear his hamstring in week 6 of the following year, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
Verdict: Not cursed
Madden NFL 06 (2005)
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
McNabb led the Eagles to the Super Bowl the previous season, but his cover year was ended by a groin injury. The rest of the quarterback’s career was filled with injuries and arguments with wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Madden NFL 07 (2006)
Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks
The league MVP the season before, Shaun Alexander was the first running back in NFL history to record 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. In his cover year, Alexander broke his foot in week 3, then suffered a multitude of injuries the year after, ultimately ending his career.
Madden NFL 08 (2007)
Vince Young, Tennessee Titans
After being Offensive Rookie of the Year the season before, Young managed just nine touchdowns to his 17 interceptions. This was the start of a fast-downward spiral for Vince Young’s playing career.
Madden NFL 09 (2008)
Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers/New York Jets
Favre finally agreed to be on the Madden cover, and EA made it his Packers tribute. However, he got out of his Packers contract to go play with the Jets, where the curse caught up to him. He threw a league-high 22 interceptions while tearing his biceps tendon. Of course, the iron man still played every game.
Madden NFL 10 (2009)
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
The cover of two players. Nothing could stop Larry Fitzgerald, who had his standard 1,000-yard Pro Bowl year. However, Troy Polamalu missed a career-high 11 games due to an MCL injury. He had just 29 tackles on the season.
Madden NFL 11 (2010)
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Sure, he threw for 33 touchdowns and made another Pro Bowl, but he also set a franchise record of 22 thrown interceptions on top of it. The Saints also lost to the 7-9 Seahawks, due to the famous Beast Mode run by Marshawn Lynch.
Madden NFL 12 (2011)
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Oh boy, the poster child for the Madden Curse, Peyton Hillis. He emerged as a force out of the backfield after heading to Cleveland the season before, but during his cover year, he missed six games with an injury and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. He would total just three more NFL starts before hanging it up.
Madden NFL 13 (2012)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson shattered the curse and earned his nickname of Megatron in 2012. He caught a career-high 122 passes for 1,964 yards. The curse seemed to be more on the rest of the Detroit Lions than him.
Verdict: Not cursed
Madden NFL 25 (2013)
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Just two seasons after his historic 2,000-yard year, Peterson missed all but one game after being indicted on child abuse charges.
Madden NFL 15 (2014)
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Sherman’s interception total dropped, but that’s mostly because quarterbacks intelligently looked elsewhere to throw. Sherman was still at the top of his game. However, he did undergo Tommy John surgery after the season.
Verdict: Not really cursed
Madden NFL 16 (2015)
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
His antics rubbed people the wrong way, especially cornerback Josh Norman, whom OBJ got in a fight with and was suspended for a game. But overall, it was a terrific season for Odell Beckham, who totaled a career-high 1,450 yards in only 15 games.
Verdict: Not cursed
Madden NFL 17 (2016)
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
The five-time Pro Bowler was coming off yet another double-digit touchdown season, but injuries piled on after his Madden cover. He missed basically all of the first four games with a hamstring injury, then totaled just six starts in the season because of various issues, including a herniated disk.
Madden NFL 18 (2017)
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
With a chance to win his sixth Super Bowl ring, Brady was bested by Eagles backup Nick Foles. However, Brady threw for over 500 yards in the game and won the regular season MVP, so it’s hard to say he suffered from the curse here.
Verdict: Not cursed, but overrated
Madden NFL 19 (2018)
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown has finished in the top-5 for receiving yards in five consecutive seasons. He has finished as the league leader in two of those years. Of course, last season was one of those years, and it only took him 14 games to do so. Brown not only has been prolific over the past half-decade, but unbelievably consistent as well.
So will Mr. Consistency fall victim to the Madden Curse? Only time will tell.