The Madden Curse: A Sports Phenomena Like No Other


Boxes of Madden NFL 11 for the Nintendo Wii at Costco Warehouse no. 475 in South San Francisco, California. (Boxes of Madden NFL 11 for Wii.JPG by BrokenSphere, licensed under CC BY 3.0)

By Max Lepore, Sports Writer


On Dec. 28, 2021, beloved Oakland Raiders coach, famous broadcaster, and video game icon John Madden passed away at the age of 85. The death saddened the National Football League community, as Madden was a pioneer in more ways than one. Madden is most well known for the “Madden” video game series, where a new game is released annually focusing on the NFL.

While being named the cover athlete of “Madden” is a great honor and a recognition of talent, a fascinating trend has emerged among cover athletes in their respective years, something that video game and football gurus have cleverly named, “The Madden Curse.” 

In this article, we will explore just a select few of the victims of the Madden Curse, and how they were affected after earning cover athlete honors.

‘Madden NFL 99’

The curse’s lore began in 1998. With the release of “Madden 99,” running back Garrison Hearst of the San Francisco 49ers was the featured cover athlete, but broke his ankle shortly after appearing on the cover of the game. 

‘Madden NFL 2000’

Right after being named the cover athlete for the new game, Barry Sanders, star running back of the Detroit Lions, retired out of nowhere. Fans were shocked, and the trend of cover athletes having surprising things happen to them began.

‘Madden NFL 2002’

Daunte Culpepper highlights one of the more notable victims of the Madden Curse, as the star quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings suffered a serious knee injury that caused him to miss the majority of the 2001 NFL season. Culpepper was never able to quite get to the level he played at prior to his injury.

‘Madden NFL 2004’

Michael Vick was quite the player so it was no surprise he was selected to be a cover athlete. However, after gracing the cover of the popular game, he fractured his fibula, missing most of the 2003 NFL season. It was just a few years later when the infamous “dog fighting” incident occurred, throwing Vick in jail and temporarily derailing his NFL career.

‘Madden NFL 2007’

Shaun Alexander, right after having won the NFL MVP award, earned the honor of cover athlete. He was almost immediately affected by the curse, suffering a broken foot in Week 3 of the 2006 NFL season, which was followed by more injured seasons for the star player.

‘Madden NFL 12’

Peyton Hillis, the unlikely cover athlete from the Cleveland Browns, had an incredible 2010 season that no expert could have predicted. However, the Madden Curse did not seem to care for the Cinderella story, resulting in him rushing for less than 600 yards in 2011 and an eventual leave from Cleveland the following year.

‘Madden NFL 17’

Rob Gronkowski, the beloved tight end from the New England Patriots, earned the cover honors in 2016. However, the 2016 season was marked by injuries for Gronk, eventually resulting in him missing the end of the season and the playoffs. Interestingly enough, his team completed the incredible 28-3 comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, but Gronk was unable to compete in the game.

‘Madden NFL 20’

At first, Patrick Mahomes, quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, looked to have been harmed by the curse with an injury to the MVP quarterback early in the season. However, Mahomes eventually returned from the injury, and led his team to a Super Bowl victory against the San Francisco 49ers, where Mahomes won Super Bowl MVP honors.

A Lifted Curse?

Overall, the Madden Curse has seemed to die down in recent years. It appears that Patrick Mahomes may have officially “broken” the curse, as he was able to make it to the golden land of the NFL the year after being on the cover. However, this does not take away from the fact that in the early 2000s, it seemed as if every athlete to grace the cover had an unfortunate event occur to them the following season. 

The Madden Curse is one of the most interesting phenomena in sports and video game lore. Whether you believe in it or not, the sheer amount of athletes to experience injuries or off-the-field issues right after gracing the cover is uncanny, and it still baffles many. With the great John Madden now gone (although he himself will be the cover of the upcoming “Madden 23”), maybe the Madden Curse will pay its respects and allow athletes, like Mahomes, to experience success following their cover status, rather than failure.


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