The Madden Curse, Spooky

Fantasy Football Fanatics

The Madden Curse, Spooky

By, Eric Hartvigson

Madden NFL is a football video game series first introduced in 1989 on the Apple II computer.  Over the years Madden has grown to become is the biggest sports video game to grace the gaming community.

During the first 10 years of production the game featured a picture of John Madden himself on the cover.  It wasn’t until 1999 that Garrison Hearst became the first football player to grace the cover.  Hearst would later fall victim to a devastating ankle injury and give birth to the phrase “Madden Curse”.

Too many, saying you believe in the Madden Curse is like saying you believe in the bogie-man. Personally, I’m not big on superstition – I’ve walked under ladders, broken mirrors and even worn white after Labor Day.  However, simply based on statistical data we find 64% of the players featured on the cover had, what we would deem, a “bust” fantasy season.

The underlying question is; does this theory merit consideration in our assessment of Calvin Johnson?  Being of scientific mind, and without jumping to a conclusion, I wanted to take an in-depth exploration to unveil the validity of this theory by exploring the athletes who have been pictured on the Madden cover and determine if the bogie-man is real.

*Because the game is released before the start of the NFL season, the player names correlate to the prior year statistics.  For example, Marshal Faulk was on the 2003 cover released just prior to the 2002 NFL season.  Faulk’s 2002 numbers will be reflected as a 2003 cover appearance.


1999 – Garrison Hearst; Hearst had a tremendous season for fantasy owners accumulating 1570 yards and 7 touchdowns.  It wasn’t until the divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons did the curse first rear its ugly head.  Hearst would suffer a broken ankle so severe it took 2 full NFL seasons before he could return.  He was never the same. However, considering the curse applies to a player’s fantasy season, Hearst is not considered a victim.

2000 – Barry Sanders; Pictured over Maddens left shoulder on the cover of the 2000 video game was Barry Sanders.  Sanders would go on to post 0 yards for 0 touchdowns.  The reason being, Sanders had announced his retirement during the offseason, months after the game was released.  Although technically a member of the Madden Curse, because Sanders made his retirement known well before our fantasy drafts, no fantasy owner was hurt (although I selected him in the 15th round just in case he un-retired).

2001 – Eddie George; George is one of the few to players to escape the curse putting up 1509 and 14 touchdowns.  However one year after appearing on the cover Eddie would post a paltry 939 yards and 5 touchdowns – probably the year I drafted him.

2002 – Daunte Culpepper; Culpepper began his 2001 season on a tear posting 2612 yards, 14 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in his first 11 games.  However, he would eventually lend credence to the curse while missing the final five games of the season with a knee injury.  Culpepper’s total production would dip 1300 yards, and 19 touchdowns from the previous season.  Examining Culpepper we must remind ourselves that injuries happen, while mobile quarterbacks are much more susceptible.

2003 – Marshall Faulk; The epitome of the curse as Faulk was the #1 player selected in most fantasy drafts after posting 1900 all purpose yards and 14 touchdowns the year before. Starting only 11 games Faulk would produce a meager 953 yards rushing; only the second time in his 9 year professional career that Faulk would fail to accumulate 1000 yards rushing.  To help explain that fateful season we must remember that Faulk had reached the tender age of 30, closing in on 2500 carries while dealing with reoccurring knee and ankle problems, a virtual death sentence for any runningback.

2004 – Michael Vick; During a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens Vick would become another casualty of the curse suffer a broken leg causing him to miss the first 11 games of the season.  He would later take up dog fighting during his down time – oops.  Again, we must remind ourselves that mobile quarterbacks have a much higher risk of injury.  Also note that Vick’s injury was during the preseason.  Depending on the date of your league draft, it is likely that most owners avoided this mess as the injury occurred before Draft Day.

2005 – Ray Lewis; Ray was amongst the handful of players to avoid the curse, but hey, it’s Ray Lewis, he could probably put the Devil in a choke hold.  He did miss one game with a wrist injury and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.  I guess that could be considered a cursed season for Ray.

2006 – Donavan McNabb; After leading his team to the Super Bowl the previous season McNabb would be the next player to fall victim to the Madden Curse.  In game 1 of the 2005 season McNabb would suffer sports hernia causing him to eventually bow out and miss the final 7 games of the regular season.  The Eagles finished last in their division. Explanation; As we all know, McNabb was always considered injury prone, a giant red flag to our analysis of any player, regardless of their Madden status.

2007 – Shaun Alexander; Alexander would garner league MVP honors in 2005 only to suffer a mysterious foot injury in 2006 that ultimately caused him to miss six games.  Alexander would average 800 yards and 5.5 touchdowns over the next two years after his Madden cover appearance.  That’s a decrease 900 yards and 20 touchdowns from his MVP season.  Being a diehard Seattle fan, Alexander is my favorite example of a “poor player evaluation”.  He had just turned 30 years old, signed a big fat contact, while losing future Hall-of-Fame Left Guard Steve Hutchinson.  Plus, Alexander was a giant wussy, with a capital P (only runningback I’ve ever seen “hook-slide”).

2008 – Vince Young; Although Young started every game of the season he would post a miserable 2500 yards, 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.  The next season Young suffers a knee injury during week 1, thus handing over his starting role to backup Kerry Collins.  Young would be relieved of his starting duties for the next 21 games, and later cut by the Titans after rumors of suicide attempts.  Young’s lack of production can be explained quite simply as a lack of talent, the driving force behind our evaluation of any player.

2009 – Brett Favre; Brett Favre and the Jets started the season on fire going 8-3, but finished at 9-7, while missing the playoffs.  Favre would personally have his worst fantasy season since 1993, his third year in the league.  He later admitted that he had suffered a torn bicep, while over the final 5 games of his Madden season Favre posted a measly 2 touchdowns with 9 interceptions.  Examining Favre’s Madden season we must remember that his poor performance came after he’d switched teams during the offseason, while trying to endear himself to new coaching staff / offensive system, on a team lacking talent at the wide receiver position.

2010 – Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald; Although Fitzgerald managed to side step the curse – he probably out ran it – Polamalu was not so lucky.  Troy suffered a sprained MCL in the first game of the season while trying to recover the ball after a blocked field goal; a bit of a fluke play.  Polamalu would return after a four game absence, only to be injured three games later with another knee injury.  The Pittsburgh defense finished a dismal 19th in pass protection and missed the playoffs for only the third time in the previous 9 seasons.  This may be the one case where the “curse” can actually be applied, more commonly referred to as bad luck.

2011 – Drew Brees; Well known for delivering a Super Bowl to the city of New Orleans in 2009 after the devastating hurricane Katrina – he also won MVP honors that year.  Brees also managed to evade the curse putting together 4620 yards and 33 touchdowns placing him 6th in quarterback scoring, finishing just 14 point behind the #1 quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  However, Brees would play through a nagging knee injury, later confirmed as a torn MCL, while throwing a career high 22 interceptions.  The Saints made the playoffs, but lost in the opening round to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, the first team to ever make the playoffs with a losing record. The Saints were 14 point favorites entering that game.

2012 – Peyton Hillis; Hillis wasn’t the greatest player from the year before, but took over the Madden cover after being elected by the fans on the heels of a 2010 season including 1654 all purpose yards and 13 TDs.  Hillis would prove, once again, the Madden Curse has credence missing 6 games with a nagging hamstring injury while posting a paltry 587 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns.  Peyton Hillis poor season is easily explained as we locate a complete lack of team talent including inexperienced quarterback (Colt McCoy) and the loss of starting left tackle Eric Steinbach before the season.  Furthermore, Hillis had only one productive season before his Madden appearance in which he wore down at the end of the year.  We must also factor the lack of “football shape” on the heels of the NFL lockout.

*Oddly enough, in 2007 LaDainian Tomlinson declined the Madden cover after citing “contract issues”.  He would go on to win NFL MVP while breaking a number of NFL records including most touchdowns in a single season (31).  His record still stands today.

Considering 9 of the 14 players pictured on the Madden cover fell victim to the curse, the law of averages would suggest this theory does merit value.  However, upon a full player evaluation we find these 8 of the 9 players pictured on the cover had glaring weaknesses to better explain their fall from grace.

So is the Madden Curse real?  Of course not.  When deciding to select Calvin Johnson we need to go through the evaluation process just as we do any other player.  In the case of Johnson that includes; track seed, enormous size, amazing hands, red zone threat, excellent team talent (especially at the quarterback position), plays in a prolific passing offensive system and it just so happens he is the most physically talented WR in the game.  He does have minor injuries issues, but far from injury prone.  Basically, we shouldn’t allow our fears of the boogie-man detour us from drafting this great player.

In closing, given the overwhelming value of the quarterback position and the growing importance of the 3-down-runningback, further coupled with the depth of the wide receiver position, I’m typically not a big proponent of drafting a WR in the first round.  However, I view Megatron the 10th ranked player to be drafted after Foster, Rice, McCoy, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews and MJD (although currently in a contract holdout the last name is debatable).

About the Author