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Madden NFL is a football video game series first introduced in 1989 on the Apple II computer. Over the years, Madden has grown to become the biggest sports video game to grace the gaming community.
During the first 10 years of production the game featured a picture of John Madden himself on the cover. It wasn’t until 1999 that Garrison Hearst became the first football player to grace the cover. Hearst would later fall victim to a devastating ankle injury and give birth to the phrase “ Madden Curse.”
To many, saying you believe in the Madden Curse is like saying you believe in the boogieman. Personally, I’m not big on superstition – I’ve walked under ladders, broken mirrors and even worn white after Labor Day. However, simply based on statistical data, we find 64 percent of the players featured on the cover had, what we would deem, a “bust” fantasy season.
The underlying question is - does this theory merit consideration in our assessment of Calvin Johnson? Being of scientific mind, and without jumping to a conclusion, I wanted to take an in-depth exploration to unveil the validity of this theory by exploring the athletes who have been pictured on the Madden cover and determine if the boogieman is real.
*Because the game is released before the start of the NFL season, the player names correlate to the prior year statistics. For example, Marshall Faulk was on the 2003 cover released just prior to the 2002 NFL season. Faulk’s 2002 numbers will be reflected as a 2003 cover appearance.
1999 – Garrison Hearst . Hearst had a tremendous season for fantasy owners accumulating 1,570 yards and 7 touchdowns. It wasn’t until the divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons did the curse first rear its ugly head. Hearst would suffer a broken ankle so severe it took two full NFL seasons before he could return. He was never the same. However, considering the curse applies to a player’s fantasy season, Hearst is not considered a victim.
2000 – Barry Sanders . Pictured over Madden’s left shoulder on the cover of the 2000 video game was Sanders. Sanders would go on to post zero yards for zero touchdowns. The reason being that Sanders had announced his retirement during the offseason, months after the game was released. Although technically a member of the Madden Curse, because Sanders made his retirement known well before our fantasy drafts, no fantasy owner was hurt (although I selected him in the 15th round just in case he unretired).
2001 - Eddie George. George is one of the few players to escape the curse putting up 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, one year after appearing on the cover, George would post a paltry 939 yards and five touchdowns – probably the year I drafted him.
2002 – Daunte Culpepper . Culpepper began his 2001 season on a tear, posting 2,612 yards, 14 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in his first 11 games. However, he would eventually lend credence to the curse while missing the final five games of the season with a knee injury. Culpepper’s total production would dip 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns from the previous season. Examining Culpepper we must remind ourselves that injuries happen, while mobile quarterbacks are much more susceptible.
2003 – Marshall Faulk. The epitome of the curse, as Faulk was the No. 1 player selected in most fantasy drafts after posting 1,900 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns the year before. Starting only 11 games, Faulk would produce a meager 953 yards rushing, only the second time in his nine-year professional career that Faulk would fail to accumulate 1,000 yards rushing. To help explain that fateful season, we must remember that Faulk had reached the tender age of 30, closing in on 2,500 carries while dealing with reoccurring knee and ankle problems, a virtual death sentence for any running back.
2004 – Michael Vick . During a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, Vick would become another casualty of the curse. He suffered a broken leg, causing him to miss the first 11 games of the season. He would later take up dog fighting during his down time – oops. Again, we must remind ourselves that mobile quarterbacks have a much higher risk of injury. Also note, that Vick’s injury was during the preseason. Depending on the date of your league draft, it is likely that most owners avoided this mess as the injury occurred before draft day.
2005 – Ray Lewis . Lewis was amongst the handful of players to avoid the curse, but hey, it’s Ray Lewis. He could probably put the devil in a choke hold. He did miss one game with a wrist injury and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career. I guess that could be considered a cursed season for Lewis.
2006 – Donovan McNabb . After leading his team to the Super Bowl the previous season, McNabb would be the next player to fall victim to the Madden Curse. In Game 1 of the 2005 season, McNabb would suffer a sports hernia, causing him to eventually bow out and miss the final seven games of the regular season. The Eagles finished last in their division. Explanation - As we all know, McNabb was always considered injury prone, a giant red flag to our analysis of any player, regardless of their Madden status.
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