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11 NFL Players Hit Hardest By the Madden Curse
written by Sam Greenspan

The NFL season starts in about a week -- although, so far, there have been approximately 3-4 players injured per preseason football game. Somehow, one of them has not been Calvin Johnson.

Johnson (WR, Detroit) is on the cover of this year's edition of the Madden NFL video game. He won a fan vote to beat out 64 other potential players for the cover, eventually winning the honor over Cam Newton from the Carolina Panthers.

Which may be good news for Newton. In the past decade or so, since Madden stopped putting John Madden on the cover and started featuring NFL players, there's been a famous curse associated with the spot. It's akin to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx or the "Sex With Pam Anderson" showbiz career jinx. (Sorry, Scott Baio.)

I took a look at the 14 players who've been featured on the cover between Madden 2000 and Madden 2012, and picked out the 11 who had the worst seasons (and, sometimes, career drop-offs) after making the Madden cover. I only counted players who made the cover of the primary version of the game, so players like Garrison Hearst and Dorsey Levens who made alternate versions don't count.

Here are the 11 players who were most affected by the Madden Curse, in order from least devastated to most devastated. And congratulations to Marshall Faulk (Madden 2003), Ray Lewis (2005) and Larry Fitzgerald (2010), the three players who managed to suffer the least immediate destruction in their cover seasons.
  1. Eddie George (Madden 2001).

    George is a strange case, which is why he's in the "first in-last out" spot on this list. Unlike everyone else below, he had his best statistical season the year he was on the Madden cover -- 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns -- and his Titans were the top seed in the AFC.

    But... then came the playoffs. The Titans were losing to the Ravens 17-10 but driving late in the game. George bobbled a throw, Ray Lewis intercepted it, returned it for a touchdown, and murdered his season as only Ray Lewis can. The curse got Eddie George with a fraction-of-a-second mistake after an entire excellent season.

  2. Troy Polamalu (Madden 2010).

    Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald were both featured on the Madden 2010 cover. Polamalu took almost the entire brunt of the curse. He sprained his MCL in the first game, missed four games, then got a horrible case of split ends in his perm and missed another seven games. Or maybe it was a sprained PCL. Either way. Anyway, even with a nonexistent season, he's only ranked 10th because the curse was only temporary; he's fully bounced back.

  3. Donovan McNabb (Madden 2006).

    After leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, 2005-06 wasn't as kind to Donovan McNabb. It started with Terrell Owens word vomiting against McNabb's actual Super Bowl vomiting -- and the two of them publicly hating each other. McNabb's season ended with him hurting himself in week 10 against the Cowboys and the Eagles finished 6-10.

    On the bright side for McNabb, the Eagles suspended Owens indefinitely two games before that injury, so McNabb did get to play one-and-a-half games in relative peace and quiet.

  4. Brett Favre (Madden 2009).

    Madden put Brett Favre on the cover of the game in his Green Bay uniform because they, like everyone else, assumed Favre was retiring. He was not. Instead he went to the New York Jets, stormed out of the gate like he was in his prime... but ended up injuring his arm and crashing down to earth in the team's final five games. They went from 8-3 to 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

    Also, while he was in New York, he sent a bunch of dick pics to a Jets media personality. That most certainly upset the love of his life, Cameron Diaz.

  5. Daunte Culpepper (Madden 2002).

    The 2001-2002 season was not only unkind to Culpepper, it was about as bad as it could get. He threw 23 interceptions, tied a single-season record with 23 fumbles, and only played 11 games after an injury ended his season. The Vikings went 5-11. Fortunately, the injury was to his knee, not his throwing arm, so he would squeeze a few more good seasons. (It's also fortunate he didn't injure his boating arm, which would come in handy a few years later.)

  6. Vince Young (Madden 2008).

    I didn't quite know how to rank Young since his career has been so up-and-down it's hard to tell if he's cursed or just the victim of pure random chance. Young's cover season, 2007-08, wasn't too different than his 2006-07 rookie season. But he wasn't a rookie anymore, his touchdowns were down, his interceptions were up, and he never exactly convinced the Titans that he was their quarterback of the future.

    In 2008 he was injured early in the season, replaced by 75-year-old Kerry Collins... and the Titans decided to go with Collins as the starter even when Young was healthy. Then, in 2009, Young replaced Collins after a 1-5 start and won eight of 10 games. In 2010, he got hurt. In 2011, he was released and signed with the Eagles, backing up Michael Vick. He was cut after the season, signed with Buffalo... and they cut him yesterday.

    I think that's the Madden Curse's version of the "long con." It's like taking a store down by secretly removing silica packs from their clothing.

  7. Drew Brees (Madden 2011).

    Brees was the undisputed king of the NFL after leading the New Orleans Saints to their first Super Bowl win, so it was inevitable he'd make the cover for the 2010-11 season. Unfortunately, in the New Orleans hero pantheon, he was more Silkk the Shocker than Louis Armstrong that season. He threw 22 interceptions. And way, way worse, his Saints lost in the first round of the playoffs to the only team that's ever made the playoffs with a losing record, the 7-9 Seahawks.

  8. Peyton Hillis (Madden 2012).

    I'm from Cleveland, so I can say this definitively -- Browns fans are, by and large, psychotic. When Madden opened up voting for the cover player for the first time in 2011, of course Browns fans devoted everything they had to making sure a Brown ended up getting the slot. Peyton Hillis was that Brown, mainly by default. So, naturally, he'd go on to do what every player does in Cleveland when they have even a hint of expectations: Epically and monumentally shit the bed.

    Hillis missed six games to injuries -- well, five to injuries and one because his agent told him not to play with a minor injury so he could get a better contract. When he was in the game, he wasn't quite the savior Cleveland was looking for. He totalled just 587 yards and three touchdowns. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in March.

    And now Cleveland has moved on to crushing Kyrie Irving's gentle spirit.

  9. Shaun Alexander (Madden 2007).

    Alexander always felt like one of those "right place, right time" players -- he played on the best Seahawks team ever (the 2005-06 Super Bowl runners-up) behind a tremendous offensive line that helped elevate him to MVP. (Because MVP only goes to super sexy positions. When's a long snapper going to get his due? Or a nickel back? Or Nickelback? OK. Bridge too far.)

    But that '05-'06 season was really the peak. In the offseason, he signed an eight-year, $62 million contract -- but Seattle also let their best offensive lineman get away. So in his Madden cover season he broke his foot in week three, missed six games, and finished with 896 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The next year he fought injuries and played 13 games (716 yards, five TDs); after that, Seattle released him. He played in four games for the Washington Redskins the following year, and that was the end of his career.

  10. Michael Vick (Madden 2004).

    Vick broke his fibula in preseason game the day after Madden hit stores in 2003 and he went on to miss 11 games. Pause (paws?) for a second to think about how he probably spent that time off.

  11. Barry Sanders (Madden 2000).

    Sanders is only in the background of the cover of Madden 2000 -- but the curse was in full effect. In fact, the first recipient of the curse took it the hardest -- because Barry Sanders is the only person to have his career immediately ended, in its prime, by appearing on the cover of Madden.

    Sanders ended up shockingly retiring in July of 1999, about one month before the game was released (but after the cover was created and produced). It's interesting -- if a superstar retired suddenly, while still healthy, today, we'd speculate to death what happened until finally TMZ found his nude photos or I-Heart-Doping.com website. Back then, it was just considered miffingly odd.

This post was originally published on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Sports.

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