Richard Sherman’s life has been pretty sweet in 2014. He made the play that cemented the Seahawks Super Bowl berth, he helped bring Seattle it’s first world championship, he became the highest-paid cornerback in the league and he scored an endorsement deal with Campbell’s that will feature his mother. The cherry on the top of that spectacular offseason was winning the fan vote for the new Madden game.
Or is it?
For those of you that aren’t privy to video game culture, Madden Football is a big deal. Having debuted in 1988, the Madden franchise began releasing new versions annually since 1990 and has since sold over 99 million games. With the NFL’s rabid-and-growing popularity and the video game franchise’s obvious popularity– wouldn’t any fan base be delighted to have a member of their team grace the cover of this game?
You’d think so, but fans are split down the middle. The reason is unbelievably stupid.
Many believe that there is such a thing as the ‘Madden Curse’ that plagues the cover athlete in the following season. There’s some interesting coincidences that have perpetuated this silly concept– enough to prevent fans from voting for their hometown player to be the cover star.
John Madden, the legendary head coach for whom the game is named after, graced the cover of the game annually until 1999, when they began instead using marquee players for the cover photo. 49ers running back, Garrison Hearst, was the first player to be featured on the cover of the game. Subsequently, Hearst broke his ankle so badly that he missed the next two seasons and never returned to Superstar form.
Barry Sanders was selected for the cover the following year, but abruptly announced his retirement. Electronic Arts, the makers of the game, had already shipped copies with Sanders on the cover. Later versions of the game featured Packers running back, Dorsey Levens, who injured his knee midway through a season wherein Green Bay missed the playoffs after appearing in the previous two Super Bowls.
Since the curse is predicated on injury, you have to completely dismiss Sanders’ retirement as having anything to do with him being on the game’s cover. Levens may have faded into obscurity after his cover, but the guy only had one 1,000 yard season before the one that landed him on the cover. Its more likely that he was a product of the Packers system than he was victim of some goofy curse.
Eddie George was featured on 2001’s cover. His Titans were narrowly defeated in the Super Bowl the season before. He had his best statistical season after being on Madden, rushing for over 1,500 yards. The loose connection between George and the curse is drawn from him bobbling a short pass in the playoffs that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, eliminating the Titans from contention.
2002 saw Dante Culpepper on the cover. Culpepper emerged in a stacked Vikings team anchored by two future Hall of Fame receivers in Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Following his cover appearance, Culpepper suffered injuries in both knees that would eventually end his career. He was big and strong-armed, but never a great quarterback.
Marshall Faulk appeared on the cover in ’03– after 9 seasons in the NFL. The claim here is that Faulk never had another 1,000 season after his cover and underwent reconstructive knee surgery. The average career of an NFL running back is 2.57 years. Can you really justify the curse when he had already outplayed the average running back’s career by more than three times? I think you’re grasping at straws if you do.
After a breakout season, Michael Vick was featured on Madden 2004’s cover. Vick, a slight-framed, run-first quarterback, broke his leg the following season and only played in 5 games. Vick set the table for guys like Wilson, Kaepernick, Newton and RG3. His injury, however, showed that it’s a great weapon when you have a mobile quarterback, but you must use that weapon sparingly as injuries can be devastating. Call it a curse all you want, but a slender quarterback that loves to run is just asking to have his leg broken.
Ray Lewis became the first defensive player featured on the cover in ’05. Lewis tore his hamstring in week 6 of the following season and landed on injured reserve. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
When Donovan McNabb made the cover in 2006, he was already a seasoned veteran. He obtained a sports hernia injury that troubled him throughout the following season. The Eagles line was horrible at protecting McNabb, but it’s more exciting to assume a curse was to blame, I guess.
2007 was when the first Seahawks player, Shaun Alexander, made the cover. Following a record setting MVP season, Alexander broke his foot 3 weeks into the following season and missed six games. He also received a $62 million contract before the Madden cover and the Seahawks lost the outstanding left guard, Steve Hutchinson. Alexander was also 30 in 2007– the age of decline for running backs.
Vince Young got the cover in 2008 after being named Rookie of the Year. Young was a phenomenal athlete and a world-class knucklehead. Young was benched in the first game for violating team rules, had a couple lousy games and then hurt his quadriceps. Young, another mobile QB plagued by injuries, was outplayed by veteran Kerry Collins. Young had several opportunities to turn his career around but always found a way to screw things up.
Brett Favre got the 2009 cover after announcing his retirement. He then was reinstated and traded to the Jets. Farve, in his 18th NFL season, played well for the Jets until he tore his biceps tendon in his right shoulder. Favre returned the following season to have a career year with the Vikings.
2010 featured two players for the first time– Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu. Both players suffered minor injuries during the season, as almost all players do, but both made the Pro Bowl following their joint cover appearance.
2011 is where things really get flimsy for the curse. Drew Brees made the cover after winning the Super Bowl. Brees didn’t sustain any serious injuries, but their team got banged up towards the end of the season and barely secured a Wild Card berth. Seahawks fans will recall the Saints early exit from the playoffs this year, as that’s when the Saints experienced the ‘Beastquake’. Being a defending Super Bowl champ that loses in the first round to a 7-9 team is embarrassing– but a far cry from fitting the Madden Curse.
I’m just going to skip over Peyton Hillis all together. He had a single great season with Cleveland and found his way onto the Madden cover by way of fan vote– possibly because of curse-paranoid fans from other teams. Hillis has since struggled to catch on and contribute to a team in any significant way.
In 2013, the curse was officially broken. Calvin Johnson not only stayed healthy (beside playing with some broken fingers, but who doesn’t) but he also broke or tied 9 NFL records the following season. That’s right, even the most straw-grasping of conspiracy theorists couldn’t find a way to tie the curse on Megatron.
Madden’s 25th anniversary occurred in 2014 and Barry Sanders made his post-playing days return to the cover. Sure, Sanders may have avoided injury by retiring years ago, but you can’t use that as an excuse if you’re not willing to accept that players get injured all the time throughout the course of any given season.
What do we take from all of this? The NFL is a violent, physically demanding sport and curses are best left to fairy tales. If you’re good enough to stand out among some of the greatest athletes in the world and you’re fortunate enough to be selected to have your likeness featured on the cover of the greatest video game franchise ever– I want you to go for it.
I’ll be proud to see my Seahawks’ own Richard Sherman on the cover of the game I’ve loyally played for more than a quarter of a century. Perhaps nothing sums it up better than what Shaun Alexander once said regarding the curse:
“Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?”