Somewhere along the line, EA Sports made the realization that promoting who would be on the cover of its "Madden NFL Football" video game each year would be a tremendous marketing ploy.
Last year, 40 million votes were cast to determine who would end up on the cover. This year, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton are battling in the finals to see who will be the cover subject. It's a brilliant advertisement.
The game's cover didn't always feature a popular player. Through the 1990s (Sega Genesis FTW!), the "Madden" cover was usually a shot of John Madden, who kids today might not realize was a famous Raiders coach and broadcaster long before he became just the name of one of the most popular video games ever.
As Newton tries to get on the "Madden" cover, WCNC in Charlotte did a fantastic feature trying to find the no-name Panthers player who randomly ended up on the "Madden 96" cover, in an action shot alongside a photo of Madden. They tracked down the player, and it was Cary Brabham ... who never played a regular-season game for the Panthers.
What the heck?
Here's what happened: In 1995, the big story in the NFL was the first season of expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville. EA Sports wanted to play that up on its cover, so it found a generic photo from the preseason Hall of Fame Game between the teams to slap on the cover. There probably wasn't a vote on who would make the cover, and if there was it didn't include 40 million people. That's how Cary Brabham joined Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Brett Favre, Drew Brees and other legends as a "Madden" cover boy.
While Newton or Sherman getting the cover will be a fairly big deal this year, Brabham had no idea until well after the game was out.
“I didn’t even know it at the time,” Brabham told WCNC. “It was probably a year later, and I was in a store, and go, ‘Wow. Look, there I am.'"
Brabham, a defensive back, played seven games for the Raiders in 1994. He was picked by the Panthers in the expansion draft, but was cut in August. He was then signed by the Packers, got hurt, and that was it for his football career. He never played in a regular-season game after the photo that ended up on the cover of "Madden." Now that's a curse.
Brabham told WCNC he doesn't even remember the play that ended up on "Madden 96." He thinks it could have been a running play from the second half, but he also played a lot of special teams. Maybe it came from there. He's tackling Jacksonville running back Gordon Laro, another player you've likely never heard of. Laro played in two NFL games, both with the 1995 Jaguars.
Brabham said he doesn't play video games. Yet he's one of the answers to the trivia question of which players have appeared on the cover of "Madden," and he's certainly the most obscure of that group.
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