"Calvin Johnson 'won' the 'Madden' cover-boy vote. Soon he will slip on a banana peel, stumble into wet paint, crash through a huge pane of glass being carried across the street by stuntmen and then be hit by an asteroid."
—Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN.com
Akin to the Curse of the Bambino
and other notable sports curses. The superstition states that, when an NFL
player appears on the cover of the latest edition of the Madden NFL
series, either a) he and/or his team will not be up to snuff in the upcoming NFL season, or b) will suffer a major injury and be sidelined for much of the year.
NFL players who have met with misfortune after being on the Madden
- Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers running back (1999 PAL cover): The first NFL player to ever appear on a Madden cover, Hearst broke his ankle and was out of football for two seasons.
- Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions running back (2000 cover): Stunned everybody by retiring before training camp while within striking distance of becoming the all-time leading rusher.
- Dorsey Levens, Green Bay Packers running back (2000 PAL cover): Injured halfway through the season and never returned to form.
- Eddie George, Tennessee Titans running back (2001 cover): During the divisional round against the Baltimore Ravens, George bobbled a pass which was intercepted by Ray Lewis and returned for a touchdown. George wouldn't average more than 3.4 yards a carry for the rest of his career.
- Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings quarterback (2002 cover): A year after he made the cover, he threw 23 interceptions. He also broke the record for most fumbles in a season. He would later blow out both knees in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, he was a member of the 0-16 Detroit Lions.
- Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams running back (2003 cover/2012 Special Edition cover): After several MVP caliber seasons, he never registered another 1,000 yard rushing season.
- Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback (2004 cover): Broke his leg in a preseason game a day before Madden's release and the Falcons went 5-11. Then there is, of course, what happened years later...
- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens linebacker (2005 cover): After having at least one interception in every season, he recorded zero the year of his appearance. He also suffered an wrist injury which caused him to go on the IR in Week 15.
- Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback (2006 cover): Missed most of the season with a sports hernia.
- Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks running back (2007 cover): After winning the Most Valuable Player the year before, he got injured and had a very down year. His career was over due to lack of production a season later.
- Vince Young, Tennessee Titans quarterback (2008 cover): After a Rookie of the Year season, he regressed substantially, culminating in his being benched for all but the first game of the 2008 season. He was released by the Titans after the 2010 season.
- Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers quarterback (2009 cover): Involved in a very public war of words with Packers management and was eventually traded to the New York Jets. The curse appeared to have been weakening, since he started out of the gate barnstorming like old times. Then the injury bug struck. While he didn't miss any games, the Jets lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs. Favre was also involved in a sexual harassment scandal during the season.
- It should be noted that Favre had retired before he was put on the cover and came out of retirement afterwards, hence why he wore the Packers jersey on the cover.
- Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers safety and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver (2010 cover): Polamalu was injured in his team's season opener and was out for four weeks, but after he came back, he was injured again against the Bengals in Week 10. The Steelers as a whole, also had problems over the year. Meanwhile, the Cardinals weren't hit very hard in comparison, as they won their division and Fitzgerald had the highest touchdown total of his career, which indicates the Madden Curse may be a case of There Can Be Only One. However, Fitzgerald missed the Pro Bowl due to a rib injury.
- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback (2011 cover): The Saints experienced a somewhat shaky start to the season before losing star running back Reggie Bush after he broke his leg muffing a punt. Brees himself had a respectable year, but during the wild card round of the playoffs, the Saints ended up losing to the underdog Seattle Seahawks, who came into the game as the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record in 28 years, going 7-9 during the regular season compared to the Saints' 11-5. He also threw a career high 22 interceptions during the 2010 season, and he played six games with an MCL sprain according to one of his teammates. Then there's the Saints Bounty Scandal...
- Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns running back (2012 cover): The Madden NFL 12 cover athlete was determined by a March Madness-style bracket tournament containing one player from every team, with fans voting for players in one-on-one matchups. This culminated in the cover being graced by Hillis, making him only the second Madden cover athlete whose team didn't make the playoffs the previous season (the first was Vince Young, who'd just won the Rookie of the Year award). A few people have theorized that Hillis gained a lot of his votes from people who didn't want the guy on their team to be on the cover, due to the curse being well known. And the first indication of the curse was? Hillis sat out the Browns' Week 3 game with strep throat. He also voluntarily sat out Week 5. He also Took a Level in Jerkass.
- On a side note, Hillis defeated then-Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick in the finals to win the cover. Given the fact that Vick's reputation was already ruined due to his conviction on dog fighting and animal cruelty charges in 2007, and how EA could have faced a potential PR backlash by having Vick on the cover...
- Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions wide receiver (2013 cover): Determined via tournament again. Even though Johnson himself set a new NFL record for receiving yards, the Lions regressed horribly after breaking their long playoff drought the previous season. The Lions finished the season with a 4-12 record.
- Some fans have speculated that the curse instead hit Ray Lewis, who was heavily prominent in the advertising and appeared in the intro movie. Lewis suffered what was initially thought to be a career-ending injury. However, he recovered in time for the playoffs and his Baltimore Ravens eventually won the Super Bowl in the same year.
- Barry Sanders, former Detroit Lions running back (Madden NFL 25 cover): This year, the tournament was divided into "Old School" and "New School" players, with the latter containing current players and the former containing (mostly) greats of each team's history. As Sanders is obviously no longer playing, it's unclear how the curse could play out unless you believe the curse had hit his former team, the Lions, who stumbled from a 6-3 start, and first place in the NFC North, to a 7-9 finish, with Calvin Johnson playing injured for much of the season.
- Or the city of Detroit, which went bankrupt in 2013.
- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is on the cover of the eighth-gen versions (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One). Peterson may have the most heartbreaking of all the cursed players; his two year old son was murdered in 2013. Also, the Vikings collapsed to a 5-10-1 record that season. Peterson was later accused of child abuse and missed all but the opening game of the 2014 NFL season.
- Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks cornerback (2015 cover): Determined by tournament, Sherman defeated Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton on June 6, 2014 to win the cover. Funnily enough, some theorize the curse worked in Sherman's favor as the year's Base Breaker player: his fans would naturally vote for him, while his haters would vote for him hoping that the curse would hit him hard. He and his team reached the Super Bowl again. They not only lost the game, which saw three of the four feature members of the Seattle "Legion of Boom" secondary (who appear in the game's menu screens) suffer serious injuries throughout the postseason including Sherman himself (who now needs Tommy John surgery, although he has since announced that he will let the torn ligament in his elbow heal on its own), but had the 28-24 final score predicted by Madden NFL 15 itself in a simulation of the Super Bowl, as well as the Pats' comeback after being down 14-24 in the third quarter. At least he has a new baby boy, however.
Related to this curse are the "Campbell's Chunky Soup" curse, which claims that any NFL athlete featured in a commercial for said soup is bound for misfortune, and the Sports Illustrated
cover jinx, which doesn't confine itself to football — when Colorado Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis made the cover when the team was heading towards the World Series, fans wasted no time in their backlash and accused SI
of being in cahoots with the Rockies' would-be World Series opponent, the Boston Red Sox. Sure enough, the Rockies lost and the Sox won.
This trope exists largely because of the regression fallacy
; the athletes involved are chosen specifically because of how far above the rest they are, which gives them nowhere to go but down (there's also that bit of Tempting Fate
and the added pressure of being thrust into a bigger spotlight). The Snopes
.com Urban Legends website has more information on both the Madden Curse
and the "Campbell's Chunky Soup" curse