Duck And Cover: A Guide To The Worst Of The Madden Curse
The Madden Curse has been a prominent topic among video game and football fans for nearly two decades. The Curse has been known to strike the cover athletes at the most inopportune of times. Injuries, controversies, or just flat out bad seasons have given a certain level of credence to the Curse. Some players believe in it, others do not. However, the eerie coincidences of the Madden Curse effecting cover athletes is too hard to ignore.
So while we wait to see what the curse has in store for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, selected for the cover of Madden 19, let’s take a look at some of the Curse’s most prominent victims who risked it all on the field while we gamed on our couches, adjusting sliders and handpicking our favorite teams.
1. Tom Brady — Madden 18
People may debate this one here. Tom Brady won the regular season MVP award and guided his team to the Super Bowl. He has defied age and silenced critics who, year after year, believe Brady’s ever-climbing age will present itself in unflattering ways.
In the Super Bowl, he put up historic numbers and did everything he could do help his team win yet another ring. So why is Brady on this list? Because he, despite the crazy aforementioned numbers he put up, lost the big game. He was strip-sacked late in the game, virtually destroying any chances of a comeback. His team lost to a Nick Foles-led Eagles team that should have been reeling following Carson Wentz’s devastating season-ending injury.
Nope, the Eagles didn’t tuck their tales between their legs and raise a white flag. Instead, they stuck it to the defending champs and their MVP quarterback. Their offense looked unstoppable and their defense did just enough to shut down the Patriots’ explosive offense.
So, although Brady did manage to have an amazing season and avoid injury, the mere fact that he and the Patriots couldn’t win a sixth Super Bowl against a team led by their backup quarterback warrants the GOAT’s place on this list.
2. Rob Gronkowski — Madden 17
Oh Gronk. Maybe he’s just cursed, video game cover or not. The man simply cannot stay healthy. If – and when — he’s on the field, he instantly becomes two things: the greatest single offensive weapon in football and a walking injury.
With each catch Gronk makes, Patriots fans hold their breath waiting for the aftermath. Will he get up and celebrate or limp to the sideline? For all of Gronk’s amazing athletic abilities and sky-high potential, the amount that has translated into real success is far below what it could be, thanks to the myriad of injuries he’s suffered since entering the league.
Gronk appeared on the cover of Madden 17 and all appeared well, but deep down, Pats fans knew this feeling was fleeting.
Midway through the 2017 season, the star tight end was speared by the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas, a hit that left Gronk stunned and slow to get up. This injury was the catalyst for a series of other injuries that forced Gronk to miss the remaining eight games of the season and watch from the sidelines as the Pats won another Super Bowl.
3. Adrian Peterson — Madden 14 (aka Madden 25)
Peterson has been a work horse in the NFL for a decade, bulldozing defenders and finding the end zone as if they were second nature to the former Vikings running back.
During the 2012 season, Peterson ran his way into the record books by tallying the second most rushing yards in a single season. This impressive feat was magnified because Peterson underwent major knee surgery the year before. Not only did he come back to play just eight months after surgery, but the running back earned himself an MVP trophy in the process and helped the Vikings get into the playoffs.
So, these feats earned him a spot on the cover of Madden 25 in 2014. In Peterson’s case, the curse wasn’t as devastating as it has been to other players, but was effective nonetheless.
Firstly, the Vikings missed the playoffs, posting a dismal 5-10-1 record. Peterson’s rushing yards fell off a cliff and he was forced to miss two games with a nagging injury.
On an incredibly sad and more personal note, Peterson’s two-year-old son was killed that year due to injuries suffered from child abuse. Peterson played the following week through unimaginable circumstances.
4. Peyton Hillis — Madden 12
Peyton who? Peyton Hillis, the fullback converted to running back and absolute flash in the pan.
In each of Hillis’ first two seasons, the hybrid back only accumulated a grand total of 397 yards and six touchdowns. Then, during the 2010 season, Hillis joined the Cleveland Browns and saw his numbers skyrocket.
He ran for almost 1,200 yards and found the end zone 13 times. It was a breakout year and put Hillis in elite company. Almost overnight, Hillis became one of the league’s most legitimate dual-threat players.
But then Hillis accepted the offer to be on the cover of Madden 12. His 2011 season was nowhere close to the success he had before, and the bruising back reverted back to his old numbers. His rushing total fell to 587 yards and he only scored three touchdowns in 10 games played. That season was his final in Cleveland, and his numbers continued to drop before he found himself out of the league after the 2014 season.
5. Drew Brees — Madden 11
Another example of a player who one could argue shouldn’t be on this list but still squeaks on it.
Prior to being named the cover athlete of Madden 11, Brees solidified himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in football. He led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory and was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. His regular season numbers were impressive, throwing just 11 interceptions compared to 34 touchdowns.
Brees’ follow-up season was highly disappointing. To start, Brees doubled his interceptions from the prior season, throwing an alarming – at least for Brees and his elite standards – 22 picks. These interceptions, however, were the least of his concerns.
The Saints first round matchup was against the Seahawks, who, at that time, held the dubious distinction of being the first sub-500 team in NFL history to make the playoffs. The game, in theory, should have been a shoo-in. Far from it.
Thanks to Marshawn Lynch and his thunderous “BeastQuake” touchdown run, paired with Matt Hasselbeck’s vintage performance, the 7-9 Seahawks dethroned the defending champions in a massive upset.
Brees and his Madden cover were going home while the Seahawks earned the NFL’s first playoff victory for a sub-500 team. Embarrassing doesn’t even describe the situation.
6. Troy Polamalu — Madden 10
There isn’t a list of dominant NFL safeties that doesn’t include the former Steelers legend Troy Polamalu. He’s a 2-time Super Bowl champion, 8-time Pro Bowler, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and 6-time All-Pro.
His crazy hair and acrobatic tackles gave Polamalu a super-hero like feel. Each Sunday, fans would tune in to watch what tricks the safety had up his sleeve. Would he jump over the offensive line and sack the quarterback or make a diving one-handed interception to seal the game?
His 2008 season was capped off with an emphatic Super Bowl victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Following that thrilling Super Bowl, Polamalu and Super Bowl opponent Larry Fitzgerald agreed to share the prestigious honor and appear on the Madden 10 cover.
For Fitzgerald, the curse widely avoided him. Polamalu wasn’t so lucky and was badly sacked. He was injured on two separate occasions and managed to play in only five contests. Pittsburgh’s defense stumbled mightily, and the team missed the playoffs, finishing the season with a 9-7 record.
7. Brett Favre — Madden 09
“I’ve given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don’t think I’ve got anything left to give, and that’s it. I know I can play, but I don’t think I want to.” — Brett Favre on March 6, 2008.
One of the game’s all-time greats had just retired. The notorious gunslinger was on the sidelines watching from home. So, in his honor, EA Sports decides to put Favre in his classic Packers jersey on the cover of Madden 09.
Come July, Favre is getting antsy on his couch. His desire to play more is creeping up on him, and he suddenly un-retires. However, his relationship with the Packers was spoiled beyond repair and Favre needed to find a new team. He was subsequently traded to the Jets.
As a Jet, things started off well for the wily vet. However, a nagging shoulder injury contributed to the wheels falling off the jet, and the team plummeted from the sky, losing four of the remaining five games. They’d miss the playoffs while Favre threw 22 touchdowns and a miserable 22 interceptions- his only year playing in New York.
8. Vince Young — Madden 08
Coming out of the University of Texas, quarterback Vince Young was one of the most hyped-up players in the draft. Drafted by the Titans third overall, Young did not disappoint. He finished his rookie season a Pro Bowler and was one of the league’s youngest stars.
Young, feeling great about himself, agreed to become the cover athlete of Madden 08, a move that proved costly.
His sophomore season – his cover season – paled in comparison to his rookie year. Sophomore slump or curse, Young’s numbers fell from 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions to nine touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions. Although the Titans managed to squeak into the playoffs, the team lost its first game.
The following season, Young injured his leg in the opening game and fell into the role of backup. He sat on the bench for 15 of 16 games and never fully returned to the player he once was, or at least was expected to be. He did return to Pro Bowl form in 2009, albeit after multiple players backed out due to injury.
9. Shaun Alexander — Madden 07
Shaun Alexander’s 2005 season was legendary. Alexander shredded defenses on a weekly basis en route to racking up an NFL-record 28 regular-season touchdowns, 27 which came on the ground. He also led the NFL in rushing and was named NFL MVP.
The 2005 season belonged to him, and thanks to a strong offensive line, solid quarterback play from Matt Hasselbeck, and Alexander’s weekly dominance, the Seahawks made it to their first Super Bowl. Although they were defeated by the Steelers, Alexander still shined on the big stage as the game’s leading rusher.
Alexander’s massive year in 2005 earned him a big pay day and a picture on the cover of Madden 2007. Can you guess what’s next? Alexander missed six games due to injury, failed to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, and scored only seven touchdowns compared to 28 the year before.
After his curse year, Alexander remained in the league for only two more seasons before retiring once and for all.
10. Donovan McNabb — Madden 06
Donovan McNabb, throwing to star receiver Terrell Owens, guided the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots. That season, McNabb led the Eagles to a 13-3 record, throwing 31 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. Along with the Super Bowl appearance, an Eagles three-point loss, McNabb was nominated to the Pro Bowl. At this point, McNabb firmly solidified himself as an elite NFL QB.
After the Super Bowl loss, things began to unravel for McNabb. Despite being named to the cover of Madden 06, McNabb’s relationship with Owens deteriorated to irreparable levels. To make things worse, the curse decided to show up in Philly.
McNabb’s 2005 season was plagued by injury and he was forced to miss seven games. His numbers, consequently, free-fell to new lows. The following seasons would also be riddled with various injuries and McNabb would never enter the elite territory he found himself in during his pre-cover year.
11. Michael Vick — Madden 2004
Before we talk about how the curse destroyed Vick, we’d be remiss not to mention how utterly dominant Vick was in Madden 2004. He became the greatest video game athlete of all time. He was virtually unstoppable and downright unfair to use. Vick’s in-game sliders were a direct reflection of how he performed in real-life.
The 2002 season, the one preceding his Madden year, was amazing. Vick, in just his second year in the league and first season as the teams undisputed starter, threw for 16 touchdowns and just eight picks. He rushed for 777 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns, bringing his season total to 23. The Falcons finished the year 9-6-1 and eligible for the playoffs. In those playoffs, the underdog Falcons stunned the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau, giving the Pack their first playoff loss at home.
This performance – a Pro Bowl season – landed Vick on the cover. Sadly, the curse crushed him and his leg. During a preseason game, Vick broke his right fibula on a scramble. The devastating injury forced Vick to miss 11 games and the team failed to make the playoffs.
12. Marshall Faulk –Madden 2003
The Greatest Show on Turf captivated football fans across America during the early 2000s, and a key member of this offensive juggernaut was running back Marshall Faulk. Among a litany of other impressive awards, Faulk made it to seven Pro Bowls, won an MVP award, and helped the Rams win a Super Bowl.
Faulk and the Rams 2001 season was impressive and yet again, the team made the Super Bowl, this time losing. However, Faulk’s 2001 regular season was still remarkably impressive. He put up 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns. For his regular season performance and Super Bowl appearance, Faulk was chosen as the face of Madden 2003.
The curse, still in its infancy, still managed to deliver. For the first time in five seasons, Faulk failed to amass 1,000 yards rushing — something he would never do again in his career following the cover. His touchdown production plummeted to 10 scores and the Rams, the defending NFC Champions, failed to reach the playoffs.
13. Daunte Culpepper — Madden 2002
Daunte Culpepper’s 2000 season was nothing short of impressive. In just his second year in the league, Culpepper tossed 33 touchdowns and ran for seven more. Along with his 40 touchdowns, Culpepper guided the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. As a young star in the league, Culpepper was selected for the cover of Madden 2002, a decision that backfired quickly.
The following season, Culpepper looked like a shell of himself. His numbers sharply fell and his touchdown total went down to 19, including only 14 through the air. Due to a knee injury, Culpepper was forced to miss the final five games of the season, and the Vikings went from a game away from the Super Bowl the prior season to missing the playoffs entirely.
The season after the cover wasn’t much better. Culpepper threw a career-high 23 interceptions and quarterbacked the Vikings to a 6-10 record. Curse fully in effect.
14. Barry Sanders- Madden 2000
He’s been named to the cover twice, but it’s his first appearance that’s curse worthy. Sharing the cover with John Madden, Sanders appears in the background (probably) making some defender look foolish.
In his 10 years in the league, the Hall of Fame back was named to 10 Pro Bowls and terrorized defenders on a weekly basis. So, to honor the human joystick, Madden decided to share the cover with the elusive back on the cover of Madden 2000.
However, in a series of sad and confusing moves, a healthy Sanders, in his physical prime, suddenly decided to retire. He’d grace the cover but wouldn’t grace the field. Fans of football were shocked and saddened. One of the most exciting athletes in football, the player on the cover of their favorite football game, instantly became a relic.
15. Garrison Hearst — Madden 99
The curse shows no mercy. For Garrison Hearst, the featured player on Madden 99, all seemed well. It appeared that Hearst was in the clear for the ’98 season. He had an impressive year marked by over 1,500 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, including an amazing 96-yard touchdown run in overtime against the Jets in Week 1. He was selected for the Pro Bowl and his team – the 49ers – made it to the playoffs.
Ok, so what’s the problem, you’re probably wondering. Well, on the first play from scrimmage in the second round of the playoffs, Hearst gruesomely broke his ankle. The pictures are gut-wrenching and downright disturbing, and the injury forced the budding superstar to miss the next two seasons.
Fortunately, Hearst would return to form and earn himself a second and final Pro Bowl nomination. However, that ankle injury changed the course of the 49ers franchise and, most certainty, hampered Hearst’s potential.