Saturday, September 8, 2012

A History of the Madden Curse: Real and Unavoidable

Next victim...
It is said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. They are, essentially, guaranteed, and avoidance of them is not possible.

This is not true. Taxes, as we all know, can certainly be avoided. Many of our best and brightest have made it their life’s endeavor to avoid paying taxes, and though not all succeed in the long run, a ‘privileged’ few manage to die before the IRS ever catches their scent. So there goes that one out the window.

Death is clearly the more problematic of the two. I guess, technically, it can’t be avoided indefinitely, but thanks to advancements in science and medicine, it can be put off for quite some time. One needs look no further than Magic Johnson, who, according to South Park, indefinitely postponed the onset of AIDS by injecting money directly into his bloodstream*.

*True story: I had a close friend whose co-worker made the statement that Magic Johnson “shook AIDS.” Yes, dude, he shook it. Just fought it like a cold and willed the thing away.

Benjamin Franklin was right about a good many things, but if it truly was him who uttered the ‘death and taxes’ quip, then it was not one of his better moments, for there is only one thing in this life that is both absolutely certain and eminently unavoidable…

…The Madden Curse!

For those who’ve been living in Cuba or Fra-nada (where cool things go to die) the past decade or so, let me explain the Madden Curse. Each year, EA Sports chooses an NFL player (or two, in one case) to be on the cover of its best-selling Madden NFL video game. And each year, that player either suffers a serious injury or experiences a dramatic dip in production. This happens, without fail, each and every year. No exceptions. Whoever is on the cover of that video game is going to die and there is no escaping that fate.

Of course, there are those who would bristle at the suggestion of a “curse,” as if something like this were too mystical or paranormal to be true. To those people I would simply say, HOW DARE YOU!!! This isn’t some stupid ghost hunting show on SyFy we’re talking about! This isn’t one of those two hour, midnight hunts for Sasquatch that ends in a blurry image of a “mysterious animal!” This is the Madden Curse! It is very real, and the evidence is very clear.

Above this article is the official post of Boris Diaw Time’s ‘Madden Curse Contest,’ a contest to guess when and how the Madden Curse will strike this year’s victim, Calvin Johnson. Perhaps you’re looking at the contest and thinking, ‘I’ve heard of this Madden Curse thing, but how real could it be, and why would I want to waste my time guessing at something that probably won’t happen?’ Make no mistake, my friend, it will happen. Calvin Johnson will suffer this season. It’s impossible for it NOT to happen. But for those who remain skeptical, I urge you to continue reading as I present the history of the Madden Curse.

Madden 95 – Erik Williams and Karl Wilson (in background)
Released in 1994

Most don’t realize that the 1995 game was the first to have a player on the cover, albeit in the background. Wilson was a bad player, period, and lasted just two more seasons before retiring. It was Williams, coming off an All-Pro season at RT for the Cowboys, who stands as the first victim of the curse. Shortly after the release of the game, Williams was in a near-fatal car crash, suffering major injuries to his right knee that caused him to miss the majority of the next season. Even though he would make a few more Pro Bowls, he would never be the same.

Madden 99 – Garrison Hearst (PAL version)
Released July 30, 1998

Hearst was only on the cover of certain versions of the game. In return, The Curse only destroyed him in certain parts of the season. The playoffs. On the first play from scrimmage in the NFC Divisional round, Hearst suffered a horrific ankle break. If that weren’t enough, he experienced serious post-surgery complications and needed two years of rehab before he could return to the NFL.

Madden 00 – Barry Sanders (in background), Dorsey Levens (PAL version)
Released August 31, 1999

Let’s start with Sanders. Approximately one month before the release of the game, but definitely after the cover was designed, Sanders abruptly retired from football. Several months later, he lost a $5.5M breach of contract ruling to the Lions.

Meanwhile, Levens played poorly in 1999, missing 2 games and rushing for just 3.7 YPC. He would lose his starting job after that season and get cut after the next.

Madden 01 – Eddie George
Released August 23, 2000 (Playstation)

The era of having a player, and not John Madden, featured on the main cover would usher in an era of unprecedented bad luck. However, there must have been some sort of warming up period for The Curse, because George stayed fairly clean in 2000. His 1509 yards rushing and 14 TD’s were both career highs and his selection to the All-Pro team was the first and only of his career. Not to be completely outdone, though, The Curse held George to a then career low 3.7 YPC and was responsible for a devastating fumble that cost Tennessee a chance at the Super Bowl. Afterwards, George’s career would take a sharp downward turn. Not a great Curse year, but not a total loss, either.

Madden 02 – Daunte Culpepper
Released September 12, 2001

Huge comeback year for The Curse!

2000 – 16 games, 3937 YDS, 33 TD, 16 INT, Pro Bowl
2001 – 11 games, 2612 YDS, 14 TD, 13 INT

Culpepper missed 5 games with a back injury and saw his team go from 11-5 in his starts to 4-7 in his starts. Point, Curse.

Madden 03 – Marshall Faulk
Released August 12, 2002

Heading into the 2002 season, Faulk had an impressive list of streaks going:

3 straight First Team All-Pro’s:  SNAPPED!
5 straight seasons of 14 or more starts:  SNAPPED!
5 straight seasons of 1000+ yards rushing:  SNAPPED!
3 straight seasons of 5.0+ YPC:  SNAPPED!
4 straight seasons with 2000+ yards from scrimmage:  SNAPPED!

Faulk battled injuries for the majority of the 2002 season, managing just 10 starts and making far fewer big plays. Not only that, but the Greatest Show on Turf went from 14-2 the previous season to 7-9. Faulk would never rush for 1000 yards again.

Madden 04 – Michael Vick
Released August 11, 2003

This is the year when The Curse really emerged as a true force in the minds of people. At the time, Vick was unquestionably the golden boy of the NFL. He was the fastest, most athletic, most dynamic, and most marketable. He was The Man. And then he was The Injured Man, after breaking his leg in the preseason and playing just 5 games that season.

Madden 05 – Ray Lewis
Released August 9, 2004

Quite an interesting battle this was, pitting two psychopathic killers against each other. The Curse holds a slight edge here, as Lewis’ stats were slightly diminished (fewer tackles, 6 less INT’s) and the team failed to make the playoffs after winning the division the year before. More notably, Lewis broke his wrist near the end of the season, though it only kept him out one game. Who knows, perhaps The Curse was scared of Ray Lewis. Wouldn’t blame it.

Madden 06 – Donovan McNabb
Released August 8, 2005

This is easily my favorite Madden Curse year, as McNabb was struck both physically and psychologically. Physically, McNabb was hurt the majority of the season, missing seven games and not playing well even when he did get on the field. He declined by 1368 passing yards and 15 TD’s, and also snapped his five year streak of making the Pro Bowl. But the real coup de grace was the psychological damage Terrell Owens unleashed on both McNabb and the organization. The team would go from Super Bowl runner-up to 6-10 and would never really regain its consistent excellence.

Madden 07 – Shaun Alexander
Released August 22, 2006

Alexander had a season to remember in 2005, rushing for a league leading 1880 yards and setting the NFL record for rushing TD’s at 27 en route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. The following year, after appearing on Madden, is one Alexander surely wishes he could forget. The reigning MVP not only broke his foot in Week 3, but he had to stand idly by as Ladainian Tomlinson broke his TD record just one year after he set it. Alexander would never again reach 1000 yards rushing and was gone from Seattle in just two short years.

Madden 08 – Vince Young
Released August 14, 2007

Granted, Young was bad the year before (12 TD 13 INT), but he was REALLY bad in 2007, missing one game to injury and throwing 17 INT’s to just 9 TD’s. Then, he went crazy.

Madden 09 – Brett Favre
Released August 13, 2008

This went horribly wrong from the outset. Favre was supposed to be retiring (as a Green Bay Packer) which made this situation extra ironic due to the “Let’s see how the Madden Curse gets him” jokes bandied about. Well, it got him. Finally, after years of Favre jerking his team around, the Packers told him to buzz off, choosing an unproven Aaron Rodgers over their franchise icon. Strike 1! Favre then led the Jets to an 8-3 record before tearing a tendon in his arm, an injury that severely limited his effectiveness (9 INT in last 5 games) and eventually cost the Jets a playoff spot. Strike 2! It came out later that, while with the Jets, Favre took to some hookerish hostess and texted…well, you know the story. Strike 3! You’re out! Madden Curse wins!

Madden 10 – Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu
Released August 14, 2009

Putting two guys on the cover? This is hardly fair! Still, The Curse did its thing, causing Polamalu to miss 11 games with an MCL injury and dealing Fitzy enough minor injuries to cause a near 400 yard drop in receiving yards. Clearly, Polamalu got the worst of that exchange. Perhaps next time, The Curse will be better prepared to dole out punishment a bit more evenly.

Madden 11 – Drew Brees
Released August 10, 2010

People like to hold up Brees as the exception to The Curse…and that’s just plain ridiculous. If anybody beat it, it’s Fitzy the year before, not Brees. Not after going from Super Bowl winners to ‘the team that lost to a 7-9 division champion in the Wild Card round.’ Not after his TD rate dropped from 6.6 to 5.0. Not after his Y/A dropped from 8.5 to 7.0. ESPECIALLY not after throwing 22 INT’s! It wasn’t a huge year for The Curse considering the lack of an injury, but Brees definitely didn’t escape.

Madden 12 – Peyton Hillis
Released August 30, 2011

The Browns newest ‘franchise savior’ basically halved his production, or worse, after appearing on the cover. Additionally, Hillis missed 6 games due to various injuries, including…strep throat? That’s right, strep throat. Madden Curse.

That brings us to this year, where Calvin Johnson is on the cover. Sure, he seems like a solid bet to avoid The Curse, but so did many others. As you can see from the information above, there is just no getting away from it. Unlike death and taxes, it is truly and completely unavoidable. You can’t stop it, you can’t postpone it, it’s going to happen…and soon. Sorry for your luck, Lions fans.

Thus, the best strategy is not to avoid The Madden Curse, but to embrace it and treat it as something to enjoy and celebrate. It is in that vein that we are doing the First Annual Madden Curse Contest. As I said, the post above is the official post of the contest. It will contain all contest rules and information, including how to enter your submission. Unless you are a Lions fan, this should be great fun, so please get involved and enter right away.


  1. Correction:
    Unless you are a Lions fan OR you have Johnson on your fantasy team, this should be great fun ...

  2. Fair enough. Though, I should add, no sympathy can be given for those who selected Megatron in their fantasy drafts. You knew ahead of time that disaster was waiting in the wings.

  3. And then Calvin broke the all time receiving record held by Jerry Rice. Take that curse!