“If you go back to the history of the ‘Madden‘ game, I was probably on the cover of it half the time. So if I was to believe there was a curse, I would also have to believe I’d been cursed. And I’ve never had that feeling.” – John Madden
Merriam-Webster defines a curse as “evil or misfortune that comes as if in response to imprecation or as retribution.”
Specifically, the Madden Curse refers to the belief that NFL players whose pictures adorn Madden NFL video games face doom by a curse to injury and/or some other form of mediocrities or downfall.
The upcoming release of Madden NFL 20 marks the 32nd year of Madden NFL. Known as John Madden NFL Football from 1988 until 1992, EA Sports changed the name of the game to Madden NFL in 1993. It has gone by that moniker since. However, most gaming enthusiasts refer to the game simply as Madden “xx” (where “xx” refers to the last two digits of the upcoming year).
In the early years of the game, from 1993 until 1999, the covers of the game featured only John Madden, except for Madden NFL 95, which featured Erik Williams of the Dallas Cowboys and Karl Wilson of the San Francisco 49ers in the background.
The Madden Curse allegedly began with Madden 2000 which also featured Madden on the cover and Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders in the background. This was the last cover that Madden would ever appear on. Although some don’t consider Madden 2000 part of the curse, we include it here.
Madden 2000 – Barry Sanders (background)
Shortly after EA Sports announced that Sanders was to appear on the cover with Madden, the 30-year-old running back abruptly announced his retirement from football.
Madden 2001 – Eddie George
George rushed for career highs of 1,509 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2000. However, the following year, he severely injured his toe and played only four more seasons.
Madden 2002 – Daunte Culpepper
Coming off his first year as a starter in which he tossed 33 touchdowns and helped his Minnesota Vikings to an 11-5 record, Culpepper did not fare well his cover year. The quarterback missed six games due to injuries, fumbled 16 times, threw 13 picks, and only 14 touchdowns. He was 4-7 in his starts.
Madden 2003 – Marshall Faulk
Faulk had amassed five straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to gracing the cover. However, he missed five starts due to injuries in his cover year, and never again ran for over 1000 yards in his remaining years in the NFL.
Madden 2004 – Michael Vick
Less than a week after the game’s release, Vick suffered a fractured fibula. This sidelined the quarterback for all but five games. Four years later, Vick was an inmate at Leavenworth, Kansas.
Madden 2005 – Ray Lewis
Lewis saw his interception total drop from six the following to zero his cover year. However, he made 147 tackles that same year.
Madden 06 – Donovan McNabb
The Philly slinger came off of a 31-touchdown season culminating in a Super Bowl appearance previous to his cover year. Highlights of McNabb’s year as the Madden 06 poster boy included conflicts with teammate Terrell Owens, injuries, and, finally, a spot on the injured reserve list.
Madden 07 – Shaun Alexander
Prior to 2006, Alexander had five straight 1,000-yard seasons. He dropped to 896 yards his cover year and was out of football two seasons later.
Madden 08 – Vince Young
The 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year threw but nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions the year he was the Madden NFL poster child. A year later, his new position was on the bench.
Madden 09 – Brett Favre
Chosen primarily as a tribute to his career as a Green Bay Packer, Favre altered EA Sports original cover design when he abruptly changed his retirement plans and returned as a New York Jet. The new Jet threw an NFL-high 22 interceptions and injured his shoulder for his cover year.
Madden 10 – Larry Fitzgerald/Troy Polamalu
Both Fitzgerald and Polamalu graced the cover this year. Fitzgerald rushed for over 1000-yards and Pro Bowl honors. Polamalu, however, missed 11 games due to an MCL injury and had a career-low 20 tackles.
Madden 11 – Drew Brees
Pro Bowler Brees threw for 33 touchdowns but also threw a career-high 22 interceptions. The INTs were enough for a franchise record. To add insult to injury, the Saints lost in the playoffs to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.
Madden 12 – Peyton Hillis
You probably forgot that name, didn’t you? Hillis fought and scratched for 1,000 yards as a one-hit wonder RB in his pre-cover year. As the Madden NFL poster boy, he only scored three touchdowns with 587 yards. The rest of his NFL career was as a journeyman running back.
Madden 13 – Calvin Johnson
Apparently, someone forgot to tell Johnson that there was such a thing as the Madden Curse. Megatron merely used his cover year to post a career-high 1,964 receiving yards, breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards. He also set the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games and tied Michael Irvin’s record for most 100-yard games in a single season with 11.
Madden 14 (also known as Madden 25) – Adrian Peterson
Peterson disappointed many as he missed all but one game of his cover year after being indicted on child abuse charges. Prior to then, he had six consecutive 1,000-yard rushing years, one of them breaking 2,000 yards.
Madden 15 – Richard Sherman
Aside from his interceptions slightly dropping, Sherman posted another stellar year with 45 solo tackles and eight passes defended. Pro Football Focus graded Sherman 89.9 overall.
Madden 16 – Odell Beckham Jr.
Like Johnson, somebody forgot to inform OBJ he was on the cover of Madden. Although suspended for one game, Pro Bowler Beckham had a career-high 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Madden 17 – Rob Gronkowski
Injuries, including a hamstring ailment, herniated disk, and a variety of other injuries, plagued Gronkowski’s cover year. 2016 was definitely not Gronkowski’s year. He announced his retirement just two years later.
Madden 18 – Tom Brady
Although “Tom Terrific” made it to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles bested him to nab the Lombardi Trophy. Yet, the 40-year-old managed to throw for over 500 yards in the game and finished the year as MVP.
Madden 19 – Antonio Brown
Brown finished his cover year with 1,297 receiving yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns. He was all over the sports page. However, not for anything good. His volatile behavior included him getting into an argument with QB Ben Roethlisberger and skipping practices leading up to the Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The fed-up Steelers benched Brown for that final game and traded him to the Raiders this offseason.
So, is there a Madden Curse? Definitely not! Not any more than there is a Sports Illustrated Cover Curse or a Chunky Soup Curse. Players get injured. Players retire. Players sometimes have off years. Players make mistakes. These things, good and/or bad, would have happened to these Madden NFL cover players, regardless. That’s how life, especially life in the NFL, works.
Curses are just conjured up conspiracy theories that people contrive when they perceive a connection, whether or not that connection exists. I firmly believe that curses are fake.
As for the Madden 20 poster boy? I imagine his take on it is much like Madden 11’s Drew Brees is: “I look at it as a challenge.”
Who’s on the cover of Madden 20, you ask?
As a diehard Chiefs fan, I can only say it is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
As I stated, curses are fake. But jinxes? Those suckers are for real!