For 20 years, NFL athletes have graced the cover of EA’s iconic football video game, “Madden NFL.” The prestige and honor of being the cover athlete hasn’t come without consequence, though, as several high-profile players have dealt with some incredible fallout.
The “Madden Curse” can strike in three different ways:
Drop in production
Bad record/playoff loss
And over the years, almost every cover player has endured some sort of “Madden Curse.”
Tom Brady made the cover of this year’s version of the game, and many fans either cheered for or worried about his inevitable Curse. Shockingly, even at the age of 40, Brady has skirted the Curse to an almost unprecedented level, and is the first cover athlete to lead his team to the Super Bowl (we won’t count Rob Gronkowski since he didn’t play in 10 games or the playoffs in 2016).
Here’s a breakdown of every cover athlete and whether or not they were truly “cursed” during the year they were on the cover.
Madden NFL 99: Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers, RB
Garrison Hearst became the first athlete to make the cover in the game’s history and actually had a great season in 1998. Hearst rushed for over 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns, but he broke his ankle in the 49ers’ playoff game versus the Atlanta Falcons and missed the next two seasons because of the injury.
Madden NFL 00: Dorsey Levens, Green Bay Packers, RB
Barry Sanders was supposed to be the cover athlete, but the Detroit Lions running back abruptly retired before the 1999 season, so Levens was tagged as his replacement. Injuries forced Levens to miss five games, the Packers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in six years and Levens was released two years later and never saw his career take off.
Madden NFL 01: Eddie George, Tennessee Titans, RB
Eddie George looked to become the first player to break the Madden Curse, as he didn’t miss any time due to injury and enjoyed one of the best statistical seasons of his career. However, the Curse waited to strike in the playoffs, as George bobbled a pass late in the fourth quarter of the Titans’ playoff game versus the Baltimore Ravens, leading to a Ray Lewis defensive touchdown and a divisional-round playoff exit for the 13-4 Titans.
Madden NFL 02: Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings, QB
The Curse hit Daunte Culpepper hard in 2001. After posting absurd numbers in 2000, Culpepper threw 19 fewer touchdown passes and missed the final five games due to a knee injury. His Vikings went 5-11 and missed the playoffs a year after going 11-5 and reaching the NFC championship game.
Madden NFL 03: Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams, RB
After signing a then-massive seven-year, $43.95 million contract with the Rams in 2003, Marshall Faulk rushed for less than 1,000 yards for the first time since 1996. Faulk also missed two games due to injury and started only 10 games. Faulk never rushed for more than 800 yards again.
Madden NFL 04: Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons, QB
Michael Vick was all the rage after an electrifying season in 2002. Sadly, Vick suffered a back injury in the preseason and missed the first 11 games of the 2003 season. Then Vick missed the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons because of his connection to a dog-fighting ring. Yikes.
Madden NFL 05: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens, LB
Ray Lewis actually had a typical Ray Lewis season and mostly avoided the curse. Lewis did, however, fail to record an interception for the first time in his career and the Ravens missed the playoffs.
Madden NFL 06: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles, QB
Call it a Super Bowl hangover and Madden Curse cocktail for McNabb in 2005. Besides the rift between him and wide receiver Terrell Owens, McNabb also struggled statistically and eventually suffered a groin injury in Week 10 that forced him to miss the rest of the season. McNabb then tore his ACL the following year and his career never really recovered.
Madden NFL 07: Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks, RB
This was the big one. After Shaun Alexander set the NFL on fire in 2005 with 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns on an absurd 307 carries, the Seattle Seahawks running back broke his foot in Week 3 and finished the injury-plagued season with 896 rushing yards. Even sadder, Alexander played only two more seasons in the NFL after his cover year.
Madden NFL 08: Vince Young, Tennessee Titans, QB
Coming off his Rookie of the Year season, Vince Young injured his quadricep in Week 6 of the 2007 season and finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns. Injuries plagued Young throughout the rest of his career, as he never played more than 10 games in a season and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2011.
Madden NFL 09: Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers/New York Jets, QB
Brett Favre was traded from the Packers to the Jets soon after making the cover, and finished the season with his lowest yardage total since his third season in the league. Favre also reportedly played with an arm injury during the last seven games of the 2008 season. He rebounded with a nice season with the Vikings in 2009, but finally retired after the 2010 season.
Madden NFL 10: Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu
In the first version of the game with two cover athletes, Larry Fitzgerald became the first athlete to actually “break” the Curse, posting a career-high 13 receiving touchdowns and over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive year. Fitzgerald is still in the league and shows no signs of slowing down.
Polamalu, however, endured the brunt of the Curse. He suffered an MCL sprain in Week 1, missed the next four games and played only three more games that season.
Madden NFL 11: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, QB
Drew Brees, much like Eddie George, essentially avoided the Curse. Brees enjoyed an injury-free season and only a slight dip in production (he threw for a career-high 22 interceptions). The Curse struck in the playoffs, though, as the Saints lost in the first round to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.
Madden NFL 12: Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns, RB
LOL, this is what happens when you let fans vote. Peyton Hillis had a breakout season in 2010, but injuries forced him to play only 10 games in 2011 and his yards were slashed in half. The Browns didn’t re-sign Hillis that offseason, he played only three more seasons in the league and never rushed for more than 309 yards in a year over that span.
Madden NFL 13: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, WR
Calvin Johnson broke the Curse in 2012, and them some. Johnson set career, team and NFL records with 1,964 receiving yards, which eclipsed Jerry Rice’s mark of 1,848. However, Johnson played only three more season before suddenly retiring in 2016.
Madden NFL 25: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, RB
Adrian Peterson’s 2013 season was plagued by a nagging foot injury that forced him to miss two games. While it wasn’t a terrible year, it was a stark decline from his 2012 season where he rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Vikings also only went 5-10-1 in 2013.
Madden NFL 15: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks, CB
Much like Johnson and Fitzgerald, Richard Sherman broke the Curse. He suffered no injuries, his numbers earned him another all-star nod and the Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl. Seattle did lose the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion to the New England Patriots, though Sherman wasn’t to blame.
Madden NFL 16: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, WR
There must be something about wide receivers and Madden Curses, as Odell Beckham Jr. showed no signs of slowing down after an incredible rookie year. OBJ tallied 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, though he was suspended for one game.
Madden NFL 17: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, TE
The Curse returned with a full fury in 2016, striking Rob Gronkowski with the injury bug. Gronk played in only six games after suffering hamstring, lung and back injuries throughout the season, and was placed on injured reserve after Week 12. The Patriots did win the Super Bowl that year, but without their star tight end.
Madden NFL 18: Tom Brady, New England Patriots, QB
Ah, Tom Brady, the ageless wonder. At 40 years old, Brady put up over 4,500 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, suffered no devastating injuries (although he showed up on the injury report several times and endured a hand injury before the AFC championship), and is one win away from his sixth Super Bowl. If he beats the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52, he’ll become the ultimate curse-breaker.