There have been players featured on the covers of John Madden Football games since 1999 even though the franchise first appeared in 1988. For the first few years the box art for the annual game featured John Madden himself and in the later years, just before switching to the "cover athlete" format, generic scenes of football with nondescript players.
Since 1999 we have counted 12 players that have been on the covers (2 in 2000). With the conclusion of the 2008 NFL regular season yesterday and the fact that we checked out the worst college sports cover athletes not too long ago, we figured we would take a look at past Madden cover athletes and rank the effect of the "Madden Curse" on each.
Ranking the Madden Curse (1999-2009)
There are two criteria for analyzing the curse; immediate effect and long-term effect. To calculate the final score we scored each criteria from 1-5 and then added the two scores together to get a final score out of 10.
The curse showed up a year late and just enough to spoil some stats for Eddie George. George had rushed for over 1200 yards for 5 years straight including the cover season where he rushed for 1509 yards and had 14 touchdowns. The next year, in 2001 (the year featured on the cover with him) he dropped to 939 yards and 5 touchdowns and missed the Pro Bowl.
Short-Term Effect: 2 (One blip on his career radar, coincidence that year is on the box with him?)
Long-Term Effect: 1 (He recovered right away but ended up leaving having a bad year in Dallas and retired at 31, so maybe the curse did enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame?)
The only defensive player on this list is Ray Lewis. He has been a beast in Baltimore for more than a decade. Showing no fear, "The Curse" took down Ray Lewis too just like an opposing quarterback. He broke his wrist which made him miss just one game but he went from his career high of 6 interceptions to his only season without one. The following season he missed 10 games due to injuries as well. He has been fine ever since and is probably in the midst of a Hall of Fame career.
Short-Term Effect: 3 (He broke his wrist and had his only season without an interception.)
Long-Term Effect: 1 (He regrouped and got back to the dominant player he has always been. There is an outside chance that the hiccups could help the murder charge lead to a Hall snub.)
Barry Sanders is a very unique inclusion on this list for a few reasons. First he was not a featured athlete on the cover, he is seen in the background behind John Madden's shoulder. He was picked to be on the cover of the game but "the curse" struck and he retired abruptly before the season started.
Short-Term Effect: 5 (He never played football again, cannot be much worse.)
Long-Term Effect: 0 (He had a Hall of Fame career and was inducted on the first ballot.)
The image of Vince Young celebrating a college championship in all of the confetti is probably one of the most recognizable sports images of the last few years. Sadly in Tennesse the images they most recognize are of him on the bench or at a party with his shirt off. Vince Young went from their hero to threatening retirement and being benched. He is still young but it appears that the Titans are better off with Kerry Collins throwing the ball so his future is seemingly uncertain. He will get friendly marks because his story is still developing.
Short-Term Effect: 2 (He had an alright year after the cover and has yet to be seriously injured.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (He went from Pro Bowler and Rookie of the Year to cover boy to benchwarmer.)
The Barry Sanders replacement was victimized almost as quickly as Sanders. After coming off a 1000 yard season with 9 touchdowns the year before, Levens responded with the help of "the curse" to gain 810 less yards and 6 less touchdowns. From that point on he became a reserve player and landed on a couple other teams.
Short-Term Effect: 3 (Major drop-off in stats but he really only had 2 strong seasons before.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (Even though his track record before the curse was bad, after was way worse.)
My favorite player of all time, I have to throw that out there to be fair. I remember where I was when he hurt his leg against the Ravens in the pre-season game in his first action since the cover. The curse struck hard and fast as he missed the first 11 games of the season. The year before Falcons went into Green Bay and became the first team ever to beat the Packers on the "frozen tundra" in the playoffs (I was there). Then the Baltimore game happened and the Falcons went 2-10 without Vick, keeping the franchise from having back-to-back winning seasons - something they have still never done. It seemed like he may have shaken the curse off of him since he had 3 decent seasons following, including 2 Pro-Bowl appearances, an NFC South Division Championship, and another playoff win (I was at as well). Then he went to jail. I will blame that and Bobby Petrino on the curse. Or should I blame the curse on Bobby Petrino?
Short-Term Effect: 3 (He got hurt BEFORE the next season but was able to rebound for 3 years.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (He is on the Falcons roster as a technicality, but he is in jail not the NFL...for now.)
The initial victim of the Madden Curse is Garrison Hearst. He had a bit of success before having it hit him extremely hard. Hearst enjoyed a great regular season that year but on the very first play in the playoffs he broke his ankle about as bad as you can break it. This not only made him miss the rest of the playoff game, but also the Pro Bowl he was selected for, and the next two NFL seasons.
Short-Term Effect: 4 (Would have been a 5 except he squeaked out a Pro Bowl season first.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (Came back and had 3 decent seasons, who knows what he could have had?)
McNabb has been a fixture in the Philadelphia Eagles lineup for years. Up until he was featured on the cover of Madden he had put together a string of 5 Pro Bowl bids and 4 trips to the NFC Championship game. The Curse broke all of that up for him. He got hurt like most others on this list and the Eagles finished with a losing record. His stats all dropped from the year before except his interceptions which went up in less games played. He has yet to go back to the Pro Bowl and the Eagles have not been back to the NFC Championship game. This year has been a mix of McNabb being benched and leading them back into the playoffs.
Short-Term Effect: 4 (His and his team's luck has been considerably different since the cover.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (Philly fans have been calling for his head pretty much ever since the injury.)
The long time Packer made the cover of this year's game coming off of an amazing season in which he lead his overachieving team into the playoffs and made a legitimate case for MVP. EA Sports revealed the game box art with Favre pictured in a familiar Green Bay Packers uniform, but it wasn't long before they were offering an alternate cover. Favre swapped his green for green and joined the New York Jets as his relationship with his long time team broke down. Favre had been threatening his retirement and holding the Packers hostage as he pondered his future. His move to the Jets left many of his fans jilted and the team he left had a miserable year. His new team threw away their franchise quarterback and were knocked out of playoff contention by him on their own turf. Favre also has a shoulder injury now so his career may be over.
Short-Term Effect: 5 (He threw more picks and missed the playoffs... and got hurt.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (His legacy has a mark on it and both franchises involved could be headed in the wrong direction as the Jets threw away the QB that beat them to get into the playoffs and the Packers are missing a supporting cast to compliment theirs.)
Culpepper was on track statistically to be one of the great quarterbacks ever. He put up record numbers and then "the curse" took out his knee the following season and his production dropped to half. One part of his curse that is overlooked is that his teams went from division winner the year before the curse to never getting back over .500. racking up a record of 30-44 not including his appearance on the 0-16 Detroit Lions this year.
Short-Term Effect: 4 (Hurt for 5 games and production dropped by almost half.)
Long-Term Effect: 4 (Rebounded for 3 good seasons but has barely kept a job for any time since.)
Faulk has a Hall of Fame resume that includes Rookie of the Year, MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, and Super Bowl winner. The irony of it is that pretty much all of that happened prior to his appearance on the Madden box. In fact his streak of 1000+ yards in 5 consecutive seasons and 1300+ in 4 came to a halt when he got that cover. His rushing yards dipped by more than 400 yards and each year following he dipped even further. This could be the clearest case of a curse induced career turning point.
Short-Term Effect: 5 (Each season following got progressively worse immediately from that point on.)
Long-Term Effect: 3 (It did essentially signal the beginning of the end but shouldn't keep him from the Hall of Fame.)
It is hard to believe how far Shaun Alexander has fallen. He was one of the most consistent scoring machine the league had ever seen for 5 years. In those 5 years he scored 87 touchdowns
for about an average of about 17 per season. In those 5 years the lowest amount of yards he rushed for was 1175. In the season before the cover he rushed for 1880 yards and scored a then record of 27 touchdowns. The Curse would have none of it and Alexander suffered a broken foot, causing him to miss 6 games and dropping his rushing output in half and his touchdowns by 20 from the previos season. The next year his numbers dropped again and the year after that he was looking for a job for most of the season. His time with the Redskins this season amounted to 11 carries in 4 games.
Short-Term Effect: 5 (Immediate effect coupled with steady descent.)
Long-Term Effect: 4 (Probably should be a 5 but he might still have a slight chance at redemption.)