I'm such a fantasy football junkie I'm always trying to convince new people to sign up and play. I have a standard sales pitch that explains the finer points and some high-level benefits like healthy competition, camaraderie, winning money and that every game means life or death to someone somewhere. So recently while sharing draft strategies with a potential recruit I found myself explaining the Madden video game curse to a blank stare. During this one-way conversation a light bulb went off and I realized that most rookies or sophomores have no idea about fantasy football's longest running myth/curse/joke/anomaly. While this might be "old news" for most seasoned managers, I wanted to share this story with all the new guys and girls that have no idea about the history of the Madden Curse and let them be the judge if it's fantasy fact or fiction.
[Side Note: If you are a believer and play in Dynasty or Keeper leagues, I hope you're paying attention seeing that the final vote for the cover of Madden 13 is down to 4 players. The bracket style voting began in March with one player from each team represented and since has been narrowed down to Cam Newton vs. Patrick Willis and Aaron Rodgers vs. Calvin Johnson . The final two will be revealed on April 18th and the winner declared on April 25th.]
Madden NFL Football is a video game that has been around since 1988. It started off as a computer game played on the Apple II and then found its way into many Sega Genesis and SNES consoles. For the first 10 years John Madden was the sole proprietor of the video game's real estate cover, but in 1998 it was decided to depict actual players. That decision seems to be the origin story of the Madden Curse and has led many to believe players chosen for the cover will succumb to injury or decreased performance that upcoming season.
Listed below are the last 14 covers and the outcome of those selected players.
Madden NFL '99 – Garrison Hearst was the 1st player besides John Madden to ever be featured on the cover. The '98 season ended up being Garrison's career year posting over 2100 all-purpose yards. So in terms of being immediately hurt by the curse I would say no, but I would like to point out that when the season concluded he broke his ankle and was sidelined for 2 full seasons. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '00 – Barry Sanders looked primed to break Walter Payton's all-time career rushing record going into the '99 season; 1,457 yards shy of the record. You would think he was heavily motivated to take the crown, but unfortunately he decided to retire right before training camp and apparently too late for Madden to fix the cover. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '01 – Eddie George was the man during the 2000 season exploding for over 1900 all-purpose yards and taking the Titans into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. He played in all 16 games and was selected for the Pro-Bowl. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '02 – Daunte Culpepper is considered patient zero for the Madden Curse going viral. His 2001 season was atrocious; he only played in 11 games and ended with a record of 4-7. He followed that up in 2002 with 23 interceptions AND 23 fumbles AND a record of 6-10. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '03 – Marshall Faulk was arguably the best football player between 1998 and 2001. He was a rushing and receiving monster where every year he posted well over 2100 all-purpose yards. He finally got to grace the cover entering the '02 season and BLAM!! he turned into an average RB. His all-purpose yards in '02 dropped 657 yards and he only started 10 games due to an ankle injury that lingered for 8 weeks. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '04 – Michael Vick debuted on the cover August 11, 2003 and 5 days later on the 16th he broke his leg scrambling out of the pocket during a preseason game against Baltimore. He didn't return until Week 13 and ended up finishing the season with 255 rushing yards, 585 passing yards, 4 TDs and 3 interceptions. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '05 – Ray Lewis was the 1st defensive player to earn this honor, yet his '04 season was one of his worst in 16 years. He recorded 1 sack, 0 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and injured his wrist in Week 15 keeping him out of their final game. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '06 – Donovan McNabb was riddled with injuries during his '05 campaign. He started the first 9 games before the Eagles ended his season due to a combination of hernia/groin/chest/ribs injuries. His QB record was 4-5 and it was the first time he missed the Pro-Bowl since 2000. Also note that he tore his ACL the following season and only played in 10 games. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '07 – Shaun Alexander crushed the '05 season with 1,880 yards and 27 TDS. He earned MVP honors that year and the cover for the upcoming Madden game. The following season wasn't as nice and he ended up missing six straight starts because of a foot injury. He finished the '06 season with 896 rushing yards, 7 TDs and 6 fumbles. (+1 Curse)
Madden NFL '08 – Vince Young had an average rookie season, but I guess the people at EA felt he had so much potential they would feature him on the cover going into his sophomore year. Vince didn't live up to those expectations (surprise surprise) and remained flat. He missed one game due to injury and completed the '07 season with a record of 9-6, 9 TDS and 17 interceptions. I would attribute his performance to the same sophomore slump other players go through and the fact that he's always been overrated. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '09 – Brett Favre appeared on the cover as a Packer, which was an homage to him retiring and leaving the NFL as one of the best. Brett decided that he wanted to un-retire, again, and was traded to the Jets before the '08 season began. He played in all 16 games but was very mediocre throwing for 22 TDs and 22 INTs. He did make the Pro-Bowl that year, but then annoyed us all again by re-retiring. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '10 – Madden broke the mold again and featured two players; Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu. Polamalu sprained his MCL during Week 1 and missed the following 4 weeks. After a brief return he injured his PCL in Week 10 and missed the remainder of the season. In the 5 games he did play in '09 he posted 3 picks and recovered no fumbles. (+1 Curse) Larry on the other hand played in all 16 games and scored a career high 13 TDs on 97 receptions and 1,092 receiving yards. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '11 – Drew Brees played in all 16 games in '10 and led the Saints to the playoffs. He finished the season 11-5 but apparently was secretly playing with a torn MCL. Although he passed for over 4,600 yards and 33 TDs, he also threw a career high 22 INTs. (+1 No Curse)
Madden NFL '12 – Peyton Hillis was a complete bust in 2011. He missed 6 games to a variety of ailments that included a sore throat. Through the 9 games he did play he only amassed 587 rushing yards, 3 TDs and 2 fumbles. The Browns were thoroughly disappointed with his performance and contract whining that he was released after the season. (+1 Curse)
The final score is 9 to 6. Throughout the last 14 years, 9 players were cursed during their upcoming season and 6 made it through unscathed. A quick summary shows that:
· There is a 60% chance of either getting hurt or completely sucking the following year if a player makes the cover
· 1 WR: Larry is literally in a league of his own and proves that WRs might be immune
· 6 QBs: It's an even split but the last 3 to own the cover were not cursed
· 6 RBs: The only 2 RBs not cursed were Hearst and George and that was over a decade ago
· 2 Def: One was hurt and the other had their worst season ever
I had mentioned earlier that the Final Four Candidates for Madden '13 are Newton, Rodgers, Megatron and Willis. If Calvin wins, I'm not too worried about drafting him because Fitzgerald proved that WRs could be safe. On the flip if Willis wins, I would be cautious drafting him in any IDP league seeing that defensive players don't fair to well. Rodgers and Newton have a 50/50 chance of surviving and seeing that it's been a while since a QB went down it seems likely due.
Is the Madden Curse fantasy fact or fiction? To be honest, I'm torn. My logical side laughs at the whole concept and accounts the inherent physicality of football as the reason these guys get hurt or decline, but I also believe in trends and a 60% curse rate can't be ignored. On the other hand, I play in a keeper league where my arch nemesis owns Cam Newton so I have been voting every day for him to win just in case the curse is true.