By The Numbers

The Madden Curse lives on: Video game turns 25

Chau Tu Aug 27, 2013

A video game classic turns a quarter-century old today, with the release of Madden 25. The football simulation game has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1988 —  then, it was simply called John Madden Football (after the legendary sports announcer) and only worked on PCs.

It didn’t even yet have the backing of the professional league, so all the players and teams in the game had to be loosely based off the real ones.

Now, though, the game’s expanded to a full-on, highly anticipated annual franchise, featuring some advanced video game graphics and an extremely loyal fanbase to boot. And unlike the first 11 editions, which had John Madden as their cover star, each new installment features the NFL’s top players.

This year, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was crowned as Madden 25’s cover athlete. (Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was voted on to grace the covers of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions.)

Getting on the cover of such a popular game seems like it should be a great honor, but past experiences may have proved otherwise. In the so-called Madden Curse, players who have been shown on the covers of Madden installments have then suffered through injuries or derailments in the subsequent year.

Here are some of the biggest examples:

  • After having a great season in 2000, Daunte Culpepper appeared on the cover for Madden NFL 2002. He ended up hurting his knee in Week 13 and sat out for the rest of the season. Then he threw a career-worst 23 interceptions the next year.

  • The St. Louis Rams’ Marshall Faulk saw a decline in his career soon after his cover appearance on Madden NFL 2003. He ran only 954 yards in 14 games after previously registering 1,000+ yards a season, and the Rams’ record fell from 14-2 in 2001 to 7-9 in 2002. Faulk only played 11 games in 2003 because of continuing knee issues that later led to his retirement.
  • Just after his NFL Madden 2004 cover, Michael Vick broke his fibula in a preseason game and didn’t return until five games were left in the season.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb tore his ACL and meniscus in his right knee the year after he appeared on Madden NFL ’06.

  • The Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu both appeared on Madden NFL ’09, and it appears only one got the rough end of the curse. Fitzgerald started in all games of the season and registered record numbers in receptions and touchdowns. Meanwhile, Polamalu sprained his MCL in the first game and sat out for four weeks. He got injured again after that, and the Steelers missed the playoffs.
  • Peyton Hillis had a breakout season before appearing on Madden NFL 2012, but then ran for just 717 yards and three touchdowns for the season. He suffered a hamstring injury and missed multiple games. He also had contentious contract negotiations with the Cleveland Browns, which eventually led to him signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent in the offseason. Hillis later reflected: “Things didn’t work in my favor this year. There’s a few things that happened this year that made me believe in curses. Ain’t no doubt about it.”

Meanwhile, Madden NFL ’13 cover star Calvin Johnson seems to have escaped the Madden Curse so far — the Detroit Lions wide receiver broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving record of 1,848 yards, coming up short of being the first to have 2,000 yards receiving in a season.

Bad as the Madden Curse seems to be, it might not be as extensive as the Sports Illustrated Curse. That one’s been going since 1954.

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