The Madden Curse, also known as the Madden Cover Jinx, is a conjecture involving the video game series Madden NFL, stating that the season a player appears on the cover, that player will be cursed with either an injury or poor performance.
Before 1998, the cover included only an image of John Madden. Players who have appeared on the cover in subsequent years have generally failed to reproduce their success of the previous years, for a variety of reasons. Marshall Faulk, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, and Vince Young all have suffered injuries in their season appearing on the cover. These performances and injuries resulted in speculation of a curse. The "Madden Curse" has evolved into a much-reported phenomenon, with several news and sports media outlets referring to it as a phenomenon on par with the fabled Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
In total, the 23 cover players since 1999 had a total of 110 Pro Bowl appearances prior to their Madden cover appearances, compared with just 25 Pro Bowl appearances afterward.
Garrison Hearst (1999)
Garrison Hearst was the first player to ever be featured on a Madden cover, appearing on Madden NFL 99. Hearst's 1998 season was the best of his career, rushing for 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns. He led the San Francisco 49ers to the playoffs and a wild card win over the Green Bay Packers, but on the first play of the divisional game versus the Atlanta Falcons, he suffered a bad ankle break and his team would go on to lose the game. He did not play again until 2001.
(It is worth noting that there are two versions of the Madden NFL '99 cover, one with Hearst and the more common one with John Madden.)
Barry Sanders and Dorsey Levens (2000)
Barry Sanders shared the cover with the then-customary picture of John Madden on Madden NFL 2000. However, a week before training camp began in 1999, Sanders abruptly retired - ending his career and leaving the Detroit Lions without their star running back of the previous 10 years. Sanders' part in the curse is debated because he is not pictured alone on the box, and he had willingly retired. Also, unlike other victims of the curse who had various problems in the years they appeared on the cover, Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards in his final season, and was closing in on the all time rushing record then held by Walter Payton.
Dorsey Levens was featured on the 2000 cover that was released in PAL regions. Levens rushed for 1,034 yards that season.
Eddie George (2001)
Eddie George, then of the Tennessee Titans, who graced the Madden NFL 2001 box, is often said to be the next 'cursed' player, even though in the year he was on the cover, he had career highs in yardage and touchdowns. Curse advocates point to the 2001 season following his appearance on the cover, during which he averaged only 3 yards per carry and rushed for career lows of 939 yards and 5 touchdowns due to a nagging toe injury that bothered him the entire season. For the rest of his career, he never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry.
George's curse can be argued to have started the year he was on the cover because in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game George had a costly fumble that lost the game for Tennessee. He also fumbled 7 times during the 2000 regular season, losing a career high 4 fumbles.
Daunte Culpepper (2002)
Former Minnesota Vikings star quarterback Daunte Culpepper appeared on the Madden NFL 2002 cover after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns while rushing for 470 yards and 7 more scores in the 2000 season. However, Culpepper struggled with turnovers in the first 11 games of the 2001 season, throwing 13 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes. A back injury ended his season in the 11th game.
Marshall Faulk (2003)
Heading into his Madden 03 cover season, Marshall Faulk had chalked up five consecutive years of more than 1,000 yards in rushing—with the last four at more than 1,300 yards. He had also helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl twice. But in the season following his Madden appearance, Faulk suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss five games. He never again rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Michael Vick (2004)
Five days after Madden NFL 2004 was released, which featured Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on the cover, he was injured during a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, suffering a fractured right fibula. Vick played in only the last 5 regular season games, finishing with just 585 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. The Atlanta Falcons missed the playoffs and were already out of contention by the time Vick returned from his injury. The Falcons finished the season with a record of 5-11, a drop from their 9-6-1 record the season prior. Vick was later arrested in April 2007 for an illegal interstate dog fighting ring and pleaded guilty and served 21 months in prison, followed by 2 months in home confinement, in which he was dropped by the Falcons.
Ray Lewis (2005)
Madden NFL 2005 featured Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, the first defensive player ever to appear on the cover of a Madden game. It was Lewis' first season without a single interception, after posting a career-high 6 the previous year - although admittedly, interceptions are a secondary statistic for linebackers. The Baltimore Ravens also failed to make the playoffs that season (2004), after winning their division the year before. Critics of the curse say that Ray Lewis's "cursed" season is highly overblown, noting that Lewis recorded 147 tackles in 15 games played and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors during the year.
Donovan McNabb (2006)
QB Donovan McNabb, who was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 06, led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX with a 13-3 regular season record to face the New England Patriots. He ended 2004 throwing just shy of 4,000 yards and throwing for 31 passing touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. He also rushed for an additional 3 TDs. However, during the 2005-2006 season, in which he was on the Madden cover, McNabb suffered a sports hernia, but elected to play until after the November 14th game with the Dallas Cowboys. During this game, McNabb was knocked down after an interception return by Roy Williams, aggravating the injury. He then elected to have a season-ending surgery that was required to repair the injury. The Eagles season was already lost at that point, with them finally finishing 6-10 and in last place of the NFC East.
Shaun Alexander (2007)
Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 07, had one of the best statistical seasons ever in the 2005-2006 season, as he rushed for 1,880 yards and scored what was a record 28 total touchdowns (27 rushing). Alexander, who had missed one start in his previous 64 contests, fractured the 4th metatarsal in his foot after he was on the cover. He missed six starts and failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 2000. Additionally, his touchdown record from the previous year was broken by LaDanian Tomlinson, who scored 31 touchdowns in 16 games. The former MVP would not get to 1000 yards again and what was looking like a hall of fame career spiraled to the ground. He would be injured the year after as well eventually being cut by the Seahawks before the end of the season. Commentaters on ESPN said they had never seen some one go down hill so fast.
Vince Young (2008)
Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans and the cover of Madden NFL 08 had a quadriceps strain after a game on October 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This caused him to miss out on one game. The following year (2008-2009 season), he lost his starting job.
Brett Favre (2009)
We all know the Brett saga in New York With the Jets. Brett had a HOF career with the Green Bay Packers leading them to two Super Bowls and winning one. Brett abruptly retired after the 2007 season after losing in overtime to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. Brett was chosen to be on the madden cover as a tribute to his great career. But, before the 2008 season he told the Packers he wanted to play in 08. The Packers have already committed to their 2005 draft pick Aaron Rodgers as their starting QB. The Packers did not want to trade Favre to an NFC rival so they opted to trade him to the NY Jets for a conditional fourth round pick.
Favre's season with the Jets started well; in week four of the 2008 season he threw six touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals, a personal best and one fewer than the NFL record. This performance led to him being selected as the FedEx Air Player of the Week. By week 12 the Jets had compiled an 8-3 record, including a win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans. However, the Jets lost four out of the last five games of the season including the final game against the Miami Dolphins, who had acquired Chad Pennington after he was released from the Jets to make room for Favre. In those five games Favre threw eight interceptions and only two touchdown passes, bringing his season total to twenty-two of each. Favre had complained of shoulder pain and had an MRI scan performed, which revealed a torn biceps tendon in his right shoulder. However, it was stated that Favre would only need an arthroscopic procedure and not major surgery.
The Jets missed the playoffs and Favre would yet again retire, only to sign with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009
Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald (2010)
On the opening of the 2009-2010 season against the Tennessee Titans, Troy Polamalu suffered a sprained MCL. He was out, until he returned to play against the Bengals. He hurt his MCL again, causing him to miss the rest of the season. By contrast, Larry Fitzgerald had a superb year, gaining 1,092 receiving yards and scoring a career-high 13 touchdowns.
Drew Brees (2011)
In a game against the Steelers, Drew Brees injured his knee. During games he would wear a knee brace, protecting his knee from causing any further damage. He played every snap in these games though; and in a game against the Cowboys, he was OK and could take his knee brace off. Sean Payton later admitted that Brees had been playing hurt all year. The New Orleans Saints made it to the playoffs, but lost to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the first round. In the 2012 Season, Sean Payton and other coaches were banned from the team because of the Bounty Program and the Saints Didn't even make playoffs
Peyton Hillis (2012)
Peyton Hillis had a break out year for the Browns in 2011, running for 1,117 yards and 11 touchdowns. In honor of his break out year he was selected for the Madden cover. In 2012 he played in only 10 games and started only 9. Missing time with hamstring injurys, strep throat, and a sprained hip. He finished the year with a dismal 3 touchdowns and 577 rushing yards, less than half what he put up in 2012. If he will return to his 2011 form is still a question mark.
Adrian Peterson (2014)
Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges, and was suspended after game 1 in the 2014 season. He remained suspended for the rest of the season
Richard Sherman (2015)
Sherman spent the offseason following his appearance recovering from Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament.
Odell Beckham (2016)
After earning cover athlete honors for Madden 16 after a stellar rookie 2014 season, Beckham gained national scrutiny for his performance versus the Carolina Panthers during the 2015 season where he involved in multiple altercations with Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, causing him to be suspended for one game without pay. In spite of this, Beckham ultimately had a great showing in 2015 with 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Rob Gronkowski (2017)
The 2016 NFL season had a rough start for New England's star tight end as Gronkowski was battling hamstring issues with limited to no snaps for the first four weeks. Things only got worse as the season progressed. Gronkowski took a big hit from Seattle safety Earl Thomas III and it sent him out of the game. Gronkowski missed the next game and played very briefly in week 12 against the Jets before being pulled from the game due to injury. He never made it back in. Gronkowski had back surgery the following week and was placed on IR to end his season. However, despite having his season cut short by injury, the Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl LI, making Gronkowski the first Madden cover athlete to win a Super Bowl the year he appeared on the cover.
Tom Brady (2018)
Tom Brady is generally not seen as having a "cursed" season during his year as Madden's cover athlete, which saw him recognized as league MVP, becoming the first cover athlete to receive the honor, and leading the Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. Advocates of the curse point to the Patriots' upset loss in the game as Brady being affected, where he committed two miscues - a dropped pass that would have resulted in a first down conversion if completed and a forced fumble during a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, the latter of which is regarded as sealing the Patriots' defeat. Critics of the curse, however, note that Brady still turned in a strong performance during the Super Bowl (throwing for more yards, an equal amount of touchdowns, no interceptions, and a higher passer rating than winning QB and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles) and New England's defeat was more attributable to a poor performance from the team's defense.
While it appears that the victims to the curse have had off seasons after performing exceptionally well, many regard this as simple regression toward the mean. That is, these performances were outstanding for the athletes in question, and they should not be expected to repeat them.
Another issue in some cases may be the matter of workload. Both Eddie George in 2000 and Shaun Alexander in 2005 recorded career highs in carries. This high workload contributed to their impressive totals in yards and touchdowns, but the additional wear and tear this workload entailed may have contributed to their injuries in the following seasons.
Another factor may be that defenses focus on stopping a player who had an exceptional season the prior year. Also, if a player is featured so heavily, everyone will know he's extremely good, and will tackle harder and succeed.