Since the late 1980's, the launch of the Madden NFL video game franchise by NFL coaching legend John Madden and EA Sports has been very successful.
The company generated over $4 billion in revenue from 1988 to 2013, and EA Sports continues to reap the rewards. Madden NFL 17 helped spike the company's digital revenue last year thanks to the game's ultimate team mode. Having a featured cover athlete on the NFL and NFLPA-licensed game is integral in EA Sports' efforts to sell copies of Madden for the average or die-hard video gamer. Most of the cover athletes you'll see on the list excelled on offense or defense at least one year before appearing on a Madden NFL cover, but they were either affected by the "Madden curse" or that supposed phenomenon did not affect them.
This past May, Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady became the newest cover athlete for Madden NFL 18: G.O.A.T. Edition following his fifth Super Bowl win. EA picked a star player who's had a brilliant career in New England, but it's unknown if Brady can break the infamous curse. Now let's review the eight Madden cover athletes who were hit by a jinx and seven others who fared well one year later.
17 PEYTON HILLIS - JINXED
The list begins with former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis. If you're a Browns fan, the thought of cringing over Hillis' sudden decline in the NFL should make you groan. The only year he truly broke out in Cleveland was 2010, when he rushed for 1,177 yards on 270 carries and 11 touchdowns.
Hillis' performance drove Madden NFL fans to vote for him as a cover athlete for the 2012 edition on the internet. Despite not being a Pro Bowl-worthy ball carrier, he beat out the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick for the right to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 12. But the 2011 season was a massive disappointment for Hillis. He played 10 games, rushed for 587 yards and found the end zone three times!
His awful year and the cover curse led to three underwhelming years with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants then finished his seven-year career.
16 RICHARD SHERMAN - SUCCESS
As you all know, cornerback Richard Sherman is part of the Seahawks' vaunted secondary known as the Legion of Boom.
In June 2014, Sherman got to appear on the cover of Madden NFL 15, then stated that he didn't believe in curses. The cover jinx for Sherman ultimately did not affect his performance during the 2014 campaign. He picked up 57 combined tackles while starting all 16 games that year.
Sherman played in Super Bowl XLIX against the Patriots, although it did not end well for Seattle. Still, by all accounts, appearing on Madden didn't seem to negatively impact Sherman's performance in any way. The veteran corner is still in his prime and has lots of chances to win another ring. We'll see how Brady does this year...
15 DAUNTE CULPEPPER - JINXED
If you're a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan, you might remember former Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper. A draft pick of the Vikings in 1999, he eventually supplanted Randall Cunningham going into the new century. Culpepper's 2000 season was impressive, throwing for over 3,000 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.
Following his appearance on the cover of Madden 2002, Culpepper's next two years were subpar at best. His '01 season ended prematurely thanks to a knee injury that forced him to miss the Vikings' final five games, then had a TD-INT ratio of 18 to 23 in 2002. Culpepper had two more solid years in Minnesota in which he achieved a QB rating of 110.9 but started a mere 27 games for the last five seasons of his career with the Dolphins. Quite frankly, it seemed like the Madden jinx and Minnesota's inability to reach the Super Bowl ruined Culpepper's career and a chance to be an elite quarterback.
14 DREW BREES - SUCCESS
For over a decade, Saints fans have witnessed the greatness of quarterback Drew Brees. He led New Orleans to multiple playoff berths and a Super Bowl in 2009 with his tendency to launch deep passes and find his top receivers on the field.
He earned Super Bowl MVP honors as the Saints bested Peyton Manning and the Colts by 14 points. Fresh off a championship, Brees appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 11. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns but had a career-high 22 interceptions for the 2010 Saints. Despite throwing that many picks, Brees actually fared decently that year although the Saints lost in the Wild Card round to a 7-9 Seahawks team.
The Madder cover jinx may have prevented Brees from going to another Super Bowl after '09, but it didn't put a damper of the accomplishments and stats he's compiled the last six years. He is the proud owner of 66,111 pass yards and 465 passing TDs during his career, so football fans might see him play beyond 2017.
13 SHAUN ALEXANDER - JINXED
There's no better example of a Madden cover athlete that could not avoid being a victim of a curse than three-time Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander.
During the early 2000s, he shined for the Seattle Seahawks and led them to Super Bowl XL in 2005 against Pittsburgh. Alexander went on to lose his only trip to the big game, but the silver lining for him in '05 was an MVP-caliber year where he rushed for 1,880 yards on 370 carries and scored 27 touchdowns. Those accomplishments landed him on the Madden '07 cover and an eight-year extension from the Seahawks worth $62 million, essentially overpaying an aging running back whose best years were behind him. Alexander no longer rushed for over 1,000 yards the rest of his career. His offensive production rapidly declined to 896 rushing yards and seven touchdowns scored in '06, then a career-worst 716 yards the next year. Seattle released Alexander after the '07 season.
The last meaningful down he played came in 2008 for the Redskins, then hung up his cleats at the age of 31.
12 ODELL BECKHAM JR. - SUCCESS
Odell Beckham Jr. is best known for making one-handed receptions look almost routine. His famous play came in a November 2014 game against the Cowboys on national TV. He made a one-handed catch for a touchdown after a Dallas defender made illegal contact on him and the play stood. The reception impressed NBA star LeBron James so much that he tweeted it was "the greatest catch ever".
Before Beckham Jr. played his second NFL season, EA asked him to appear on the cover of Madden '16. It seemed his presence on a popular video game cover might've spelled a sophomore jinx for the outstanding wideout, but he shattered the cover curse in 2015. OBJ collected 96 receptions for 1,450 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on a Giants team that didn't make the playoffs. Beckham Jr. followed up his '15 success by catching a career-high 101 passes for over 1,300 yards last year as the G-Men made the postseason. The prime of his career is still to come for Beckham Jr., so maybe 2017 is his year to shine once again.
10 ADRIAN PETERSON - JINXED
We have another ex-Viking on the list, and that is running back Adrian Peterson. A.P. endeared himself to the Twin Cities with his speed, elusiveness, and his ability to find the end zone. Peterson had an incredible run in Minnesota, which included an MVP season in 2012 where he rushed for a career-best 2,097 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 TD runs!
In 2013, Peterson appeared on the secondary cover of Madden NFL 25 for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. But A.P. regressed significantly during the '13 season with 1,266 yards, almost a 1,000 yards less than 2012. Then Peterson played one game in 2014 thanks to a season-ending suspension for abusing his son but rebounded in 2015 by rushing for a league-leading 1,485 yards. AP suffered through an injury-riddled 2016 season, which marked the end of his Vikings run. He signed with the New Orleans Saints before this upcoming season, so don't be surprised if he gets fewer carries on the gridiron.
9 RAY LEWIS - SUCCESS
The Baltimore Ravens were very fortunate to have former linebacker Ray Lewis anchoring their defense for years. Lewis led them to a Super Bowl blowout win against the Giants, then earned the game's MVP honors.
In early 2004, Lewis became the first defensive player to grace the cover of a Madden NFL game. The '04 season for Lewis was good overall, recording 100 total tackles, 46 assisted tackles, and one sack. He earned All-Pro honors as a result and seemingly broke the cover curse. Then the 2005 campaign arrived and he played six games and had 46 combined tackles. But the beloved Ravens linebacker overcame that setback year with five straight years of 100-plus combined tackles (2006-10), along with 5 sacks in '06.
The Madden curse affected Lewis for really only one season, but he led the Ravens to their second Super Bowl win a few seasons ago. Lewis is happily retired from football, so expect him to be enshrined in Canton someday.
8 BRETT FAVRE - JINXED
Okay, you might be surprised that Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre actually made the front of an NFL-licensed video game, but it did happen.
Favre had a storied 16-year tenure with the Green Bay Packers, leading them to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. After a crushing loss to the Giants in the '07 NFC championship, Favre opted to retire from the game he loved so much, then decided to unretire. In August 2008, the Packers traded their longtime QB to the New York Jets for a conditional pick.
Favre also landed on the cover of Madden NFL 09, donning a Jets jersey. His only season in New York turned out to not be a bad year by his standards. Favre led the Jets to an 8-3 start, but the team lost four of their final five games and missed the playoffs thanks in part to the 22 picks he threw. Favre also played through injuries the second half of their season and lost to a Dolphins team led by Jets' QB Chad Pennington in their last home game. Favre played two more seasons for the Vikings (the Packers' division rivals) and retired for good after a terrible 2010 season.
7 LARRY FITZGERALD - SUCCESS
You may know Larry Fitzgerald as a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. Best known as "Fitz", he made his pro debut in 2004 then shined as one of the NFC's best pass-catchers for the last decade.
Following an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII against Pittsburgh, EA Sports approached Fitzgerald if he could appear on the Madden NFL 10 cover with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who helped Pittsburgh beat Fitzgerald's Cardinals in a classic Super Bowl. Fitzgerald accepted EA's offer and had a fine '09 season.
He scored a career-best 13 TDs and had a third 1,000 receiving yard season with eventual Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner leading the Cards' offense. He's had a standout career with over 14,000 receiving yards and 1,125 catches in 13 seasons. Fitzgerald plans on returning for a 14th season in Arizona.
6 MARSHALL FAULK - JINXED
An integral piece of the St. Louis Rams' Greatest Show on Turf in the late '90s and early 2000s, Marshall Faulk terrorized opposing defenses as a dual-threat running back. Faulk could run the ball and catch passes like no one else before him.
Faulk guided the Rams to the Super Bowl twice, winning on his first try in '99 over Tennessee and losing on his next opportunity versus New England two years later. The future Hall of Famer landed on the cover of Madden NFL 03 after another great season in which he rushed for 1,382 yards, scored 12 rushing touchdowns, and nine TD catches. But Faulk's 2002 campaign was one of the worst of his great career. He picked up 953 rushing yards on 212 carries and eight TD runs. In fact, he never rushed for over 1,000 yards again in his career and could not bust the Madden curse. Faulk retired from pro football in 2005 with 12,279 career rushing yards and 136 offensive touchdowns.
5 CALVIN JOHNSON - SUCCESS
Detroit Lions fans were treated to the greatness of wide receiver Calvin Johnson for nine stellar seasons.
The Lions drafted the Georgia Tech product in 2007 but truly peaked the following year with 78 passes caught on a winless Lions team. Johnson appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 13 after a solid 2011 campaign where he racked up 1,681 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Johnson's 2012 season turned out to be his finest, setting career-highs in catches and receiving yards. He made a whopping 122 receptions for 1,964 yards and five TDs, almost cracking the 2,000-yard mark that no NFL wideout has ever reached to this day. But the man Detroit fans called "Megatron" actually busted the Madden curse.
He retired from the NFL after 2015, citing the daily grind and the Lions' constant underachieving. Johnson finished his career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and was in the midst of his prime.
4 MICHAEL VICK - JINXED
If you've read my last football piece on the 15 NFLers who were cut for bizarre reasons, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Mike Vick appeared on that piece for his dogfighting controversy. Now the former first overall pick from 2001 lands on this list for a different reason.
Vick appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2004 following an incredible '02 season where he threw 16 touchdown passes, rushed for 777 yards and added eight TD runs. But just one day after Madden 04's release, Vick broke his leg during a preseason game and was limited to five games in 2003. He bounced back with three straight 2,000 passing yard seasons and rushed for 1,309 yards in '06 until the league indefinitely suspended him a year later and faced nearly two years of jail time. Apparently, the Madden curse affected most of Vick's NFL career, given that he couldn't reach the Super Bowl and the infamy he gained over his awful treatment of dogs.
2 BARRY SANDERS - SUCCESS
We're cheating a little with this one as Barry Sanders was retired when appearing on the Madden covers... Or maybe he was smart enough to know to retire early!
Barry Sanders made his mark on an NFL field for 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions as one of the best running backs the league's ever seen. The 5'9'' halfback out of Oklahoma State University wowed Lions fans with his explosiveness running the ball and ability to elude tacklers. Sanders picked up ten 1,000 yard seasons and made the Pro Bowl ten times! The Hall of Famer appeared on the covers of Madden NFL 2000 and Madden 25. By the time EA released Madden 2000, he retired in 1998 and thus avoided the infamous jinx. The gaming company also put him as a primary cover athlete for their 25th-anniversary edition of Madden NFL. Technically, Sanders broke the "Madden Curse" on two occasions even though he didn't have to.
1 VINCE YOUNG - JINXED
Well, what do you know? Former NFL quarterback Vince Young takes his spot as the #1 jinxed Madden NFL cover athlete. A 2006 draft pick of the Tennessee Titans, Young had loads of potential to become a star following a solid rookie season where he threw 12 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions. Young was poised to become a fine successor to Steve McNair with Tennessee, as EA Sports tapped the former Texas Longhorn QB to appear the cover on Madden NFL 08.
Despite throwing for over 2,500 passing yards and winning nine games, he regressed to throwing nine TDs and 17 picks in 2007. That season also exposed his on-and-off play, struggles to properly mature at the pro level and a questionable work ethic that would plague the rest of his career. Young played three more years for the Titans and one forgettable year for the Eagles. He attempted a comeback in the CFL by signing with Saskatchewan, but they cut him this past June.