The History Of The Madden Curse

Leigh Copson /
Patrick Mahomes Madden NFL 20 Cover

Why do coaches, players and fans fear their favourite player gracing the cover of the famous Madden NFL video game? Here we run down the shocking history of the infamous ‘Madden Curse’.

The History Of The Madden Curse

Patrick Mahomes (Madden NFL 20) – The Madden NFL Curse is synonymous for injuries and Kansas City fans must have been fearing the worst when superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes landed the cover spot for 2020. Those concerns proved to be warranted when Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap during the Week 7 win at Denver. This forced the 24-year-old onto the sidelines, but both he and the Chiefs got very lucky with the extent of the injury, meaning he was able to return to action a couple of weeks later. However, they could be forgiven for being nervous about the health of their star performer during the remainder of the season.

Antonio Brown (Madden NFL 19) – OK, on this occasion it was not so much an injury or a downturn in production that continued the curse of the cover, it was simply a career meltdown. Antonio Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh and found a new home in Oakland, but his brief stint was a tumultuous one that featured a bizarre spat over his preferred choice of helmet for games. The franchise decided enough was enough on the eve of the new season and released the controversial wide receiver, only for him to quickly end up with New England. Brown did manage an appearance and a touchdown for the Patriots, but legal troubles had reared their head by this point and he was released by a second team in the space of a month.

Rob Gronkowski (Madden NFL 2017) – The New England Patriots tight end missed the first two games of the season due to a hamstring injury and did not start until the Week 5 clash with the Cleveland Browns, but once he was up and running he was playing a starring role on the offense. However, a lung contusion suffered in a huge hit soon sidelined him again and his season was brought to a premature end when he left a Week 13 matchup against the New York Jets with a back injury.

Adrian Peterson (Madden NFL 25) – The Minnesota Vikings running back made a spectacular start to the season as he raced for a 78-yard touchdown run with his first carry of the game, but it was pretty much downhill from there as a foot injury hampered him for a couple of months and eventually ended his season in December.

Peyton Hillis (Madden NFL 2012) – The fact that the Cleveland Browns running back landed the Madden cover was a huge shock, but maybe fans of other teams were wary of supporting their own personal favourites due to the curse? If that was the case it was a wise move. Despite a contract dispute prior to the season, Hillis did play 10 games for the Browns that year, but his battles with illness and injury meant he was unable to follow up an impressive 2010 season and the following season he was allowed to leave as a free agent.

Drew Brees (Madden NFL 2011) – The New Orleans Saints quarterback landed the Madden cover after a record-breaking 2010 season that saw him lead the team to a first Super Bowl success in franchise history. His own efforts landed him Super Bowl MVP honours as well as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the year, but one year later it was all so very different. Brees put up one of the worst campaigns of his entire career and the Saints exited the playoffs in the wildcard round as they became the first team to lose a playoff game to a team that made the postseason with a losing record.

Larry Fitzgerald & Troy Polamalu (Madden NFL 2010) – Why ruin one team’s season when you can possibly ruin two? Arizona fans were relieved as wide receiver Fitzgerald put up impressive numbers, but Steelers fans were not so lucky as linebacker Polamalu fell victim to the curse. He suffered a knee injury in the first half of their Week 1 game, sidelining him for four weeks, and he only managed three more games that season before a cruciate ligament injury forced him onto IR.

Brett Favre (Madden NFL 2009) – Were EA Sports playing it safe when they put a retired Favre on the cover? If they were that plan backfired when the Green Bay Packers legend came out of retirement and signed with the New York Jets. Off-the-field problems with Favre caused the Jets a headache all season long and late in the season he suffered a shoulder injury that would cause him issues for the rest of his career before forcing into retirement again.

Vince Young (Madden NFL 2008) – The Tennessee Titans enjoyed a dream rookie season after being drafted out of Texas and he was handed the cover spot after LaDainian Tomlinson turned down the offer to be the face of the game for that season. San Diego fans had helped Tomlinson make that decision by voicing their fears about the curse striking, and Tennessee fans maybe should have taken the same approach. Young laughed off talk of the curse following the announcement, but poor performances and a couple of injuries blighted his sophomore campaign, and by the end of the following season he was relegated to the backup position.

Shaun Alexander (Madden NFL 2007) – The Seattle Seahawks running back had established himself as one of the premier players in his position in 2005 as he broke NFL and franchise records, but the only thing he broke the following year was his foot in Week 3. He failed to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time as a Seahawk and then suffered a whole host of injuries the following season before being cut in 2008.

Donovan McNabb (Madden NFL 2006) – Leading the Philadelphia Eagles to their second ever Super Bowl appearance was enough to land the quarterback the Madden cover honours, and it looked like he could avoid the course when he raced out of the blocks and appeared to be on course for a big year. However, a groin injury ended his season prematurely and the following season he suffered a serious knee injury that ended his campaign early. After that, McNabb was never the same player.

Ray Lewis (Madden NFL 2005) – The Baltimore Ravens linebacker had established himself as one of the defensive stars of the NFL, but he failed to live up to his usually high standards during the 2004 season as the team missed out on the playoffs, and the following year he missed the vast majority of the season after suffering a hamstring tear.

Michael Vick (Madden NFL 2004) – The Atlanta Falcons star was being hailed as a new breed of quarterback inside the NFL, but 2003 proved to be a year to forget for him. Within weeks of the announcement that he would grace the cover of the game, Vick suffered a fractured fibula that kept him sidelined for the first 11 weeks of the season.

Marshall Faulk (Madden NFL 2003) – A key member of the ‘Greatest Show On Turf’, it was no real surprise when the superstar St Louis Rams running back was unveiled as the cover star for the 2003 instalment of Madden. However, his career nose-dived from there as he never broke the 1,000-yard mark in a season ever again. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2006 and never played again.

Daunte Culpepper (Madden NFL 2002) – The Minnesota Vikings quarterback led his team to the NFC Conference Championship Game in his first season as a starter, but he was unable to repeat or better those efforts as a knee injury ended his season abruptly a year later, and when he did return Culpepper was not the same player. This was the year in which the ‘Madden Curse’ became a ‘thing’.

Eddie George (Madden NFL 2001) – The Tennessee Titans running back was able to avoid injury and help the team reach the playoffs that season, but not even he could fend off the curse. The normally reliable George bobbled a pass against Baltimore that resulted in a pick-six, a score that helped end the Titans’ season, and although he played on for a few more years he was not the player he once was.

Barry Sanders & Dorsey Levens (Madden NFL 2000) – Maybe Barry Sanders knew something even at this early stage? Shortly after he was announced as the cover player for Madden the Detroit Lions legend announced his sudden retirement and that left EA Sports scrambling for a replacement. They went with one of the NFL’s rising stars in Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens, but that decision proved to be the ‘kiss of death’ as he battled injury all season long and the Packers endured their worst season for almost a decade. Two years later, Levens was let go.

Garrison Hearst (Madden NFL 99) – The San Francisco 49ers was given the honour of being the first ever player to grace the cover of a Madden game – and a couple of years later he was probably wishing they had stuck with legendary coach John Madden as the man to front the franchise. Hearst suffered a horrendous broken ankle in the playoffs and complications during surgery resulted in him spending the next two years on the sidelines. He did make an impressive return in 2001, but his career tailed off over the next couple of seasons and by 2005 he was out of the league.