Detroit Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been voted onto the cover of Madden NFL 13, causing Lions fans to cringe with excitement.
Wait. Cringe with excitement?
That’s right: we have all heard of the “Madden Curse” which is believed to strike down players who grace the cover of the video game, rendering them useless for the following year.
So as a Lions fan, I am both excited and worried for Johnson. It is truly an honor, and a deserved one, as Johnson racked up over 1,600 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns last year. However, with the so-called curse looming, it is hard to be fully optimistic.
So, without further ado, allow me to show you the cold hard facts about this alleged curse, and see if we can get to the bottom of it.
First, I will list the player’s statistics from the year prior to them being featured on the cover. Then, their stats the following year, followed by a short analysis.
Cover: John Madden
The legendary John Madden is the inspiration behind the greatest football video game in history (NFL Blitz fans, you have legitimate beef) and headlined the cover for over ten years. While Madden no longer calls games, he’s still kicking at age 76, so the curse hasn’t gotten him yet.
Year: Madden ‘95
Cover: Cowboys tackle Erik Williams, 49ers defensive lineman Karl Wilson (along with Madden)
Williams gained recognition in the 1993 season after he held Reggie White without a sack in a 20-10 Cowboys win. An emerging star, Williams suffered a serious car accident shortly after being featured on the cover, causing his to miss most of the 1994 season. Williams did return in 1995, but it wasn’t until 1996 that he returned to his previous Pro Bowl form.
Wilson bounced around the NFL for most of his career, but recorded 3.0 sacks in 12 games with three different teams in 1993. He followed that with a 14-game, 2.5 sack performance in 1994 before eventually retiring after the 1995 season.
Analysis: A car crash right after being put on the cover??? Point for the curse.
Year: Madden ‘99
Cover: 49ers running back Garrison Hearst
1998 stats: 1,570 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
1999 stats: DNP
Hearst broke his ankle in the 49ers divisional playoff game in the 98-99 season after a fantastic regular season. Although I’m not sure this can be attributed to the curse because the injury took place before he was put on the cover, it’s weird nonetheless. Hearst tried to make a return to the NFL after two years of rehab, and was successful, rushing for over 1,200 yards in 2001 and close to 1,000 again in 2002. Hearst retired after the ’04 season.
Analysis: Hearst did suffer a gruesome injury, but before the curse could have struck. Still strange, but since Hearst was able to come back and produce again in the NFL, it’s a push at worst. Half point against the curse.
Year: Madden ‘00
Cover: Lions running back Barry Sanders (With Madden in the foreground)
Ah, how the plot thickens. As Lions fans know, Sanders announced his retirement in July of 1999 after a dazzling career that put him atop the list of Lions greats. But did the curse play a part in this?
It’s really difficult to say, but here are the facts: Sanders retired in July of ’99, while Madden 2000 hit the shelves on August 31, 1999. Did the curse possess Sanders to retire? Only those practicing Voodoo will ever know.
Analysis: Sanders retired because the Lions sucked, not because of the curse. Point against the curse.
Year: Madden ‘01
Cover: Titans running back Eddie George
1999 stats: 1,304 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
2000 stats: 1,509 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns
Wait a second; George had better numbers the year he appeared on the cover? What’s happening! Curse activists will point to the costly fumble George lost in the postseason that cost the Titans the game, but the numbers don’t add up in favor of the curse here.
Analysis: over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns doesn’t sound like much of a curse to me: point goes to the anti-curse.
Year: Madden ‘02
Cover: Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper
2000 stats: 3,937 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 16 interceptions
2001 stats: 2,612 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
After having a great 2000 season, Culpepper suffered a back injury in ’01, and his production dropped off to boot.
Analysis: Culpepper was clearly cursed, and although he did pass for over 3,400 yards in each of his next three seasons, I have to chalk this one up in favor of the curse.
Year: Madden ‘03
Cover: Rams running back Marshall Faulk
2001 stats: 2,147 total yards, 21 total touchdowns
2002 stats: 1,490 total yards, 10 total touchdowns
Faulk will go down as one of the all-time greats in the NFL, and by 2001, had a streak of four consecutive 2,000 yard seasons. Although many will point to the curse for his drop off in production, St. Louis was riddled with injuries in ’02. The injuries, combined with the fact that 2002 was Faulk’s ninth year in the league led to his lesser year.
Analysis: Tough call here, Faulk’s numbers clearly dropped, but there were some external factors at work. Call it a push.
Year: Madden ‘04
Cover: Falcons quarterback Michael Vick
2002 stats: 2,936 passing yards, 777 rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns
2003 stats: 585 passing yards, 255 rushing yards, 5 total touchdowns
It was really Michael Vick that got the whole idea of a “Madden Curse” started. Vick was one of the league’s brightest stars coming into the 2003 season, but he broke his leg in a preseason game and played just five games all year. Then, he went to jail if you hadn’t heard, and made an incredible comeback to stardom before falling flat on his face last year.
Analysis: a broken leg in the preseason is almost as bad as Erik Williams’ car crash: point curse.
Year: Madden ‘05
Cover: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
2003 stats: 161 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 6 interceptions, NFL Defensive Player of the Year
2004 stats: 146 tackles, 1 forced fumble, no interceptions
To look at Lewis’ numbers and say the curse was at work isn’t really fair. While Lewis recorded no interceptions in ’04 compared to six in ’03, he still had a good year and was named first team All-Pro by the AP. However, the other side of the coin points out that Lewis’ Ravens went from division champs in ‘03 to watching the playoffs from home in ’04. Plus, he only played six games due to injury in the ’05 campaign.
Analysis: not buying this one; Lewis had a solid 2004 season, and continues to be a perennial Pro-Bowler. Point against the curse.
Year: Madden ‘06
Cover: Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb
2004 stats: 3,875 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, Super Bowl appearance
2005 stats: 2,507 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 6-10 team record
McNabb played hurt for most of the 2005 season, and missed the final five games after deciding to undergo surgery. While still producing decent number (278 ypg), McNabb fell well short of his previous year’s performance. McNabb has since bounced back to put together a very nice (Hall of Fame?) career, but never did win that ever-elusive Super Bowl.
Analysis: McNabb was no doubt subject to the curse in 2005, but has put together a great career since. Tough one, but the curse is really about the year the player appears on the cover, so in that case, point curse.
Year: Madden ‘07
Cover: Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander
2005 stats: 1,880 rushing yards, 27 touchdowns (NFL record)
2006 stats: 896 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns (Ladainian Tomlinson breaks record)
After a record-breaking season in ’05, Alexander broke his foot in ’06 and was never the same. After two more awful years in the NFL, Alexander retired following the ’08 season.
Analysis: one of the best examples of a Madden curse known to man, point curse.
Year: Madden ‘08
Cover: Titans quarterback Vince Young
2006 stats: 2,199 passing yards, 12 TDs, 13 INTs, 552 rushing yards, 7 TDs, 12 fumbles
2007 stats: 2,547 passing yards, 9 TDs, 17 INTs, 395 rushing yards, 3 TDs, 10 fumbles
All these numbers are making me wonder why Vince Young was ever on the cover of Madden in the first place. He turned the ball over a ton, and posted fairly average numbers in terms of yardage. Shortly thereafter, people were questioning his sanity altogether.
Analysis: no curse here, just a bad player.
Year: Madden ‘09
Cover: Brett Favre
2007 stats: 4,155 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions
2008 stats: 3,472 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 22 interceptions
Ah, good old Brett Favre. The Madden cover that was meant to honor him and his career as a Green Bay Packer became laughingstock after Favre came out of retirement and signed with the New York Jets.
Analysis: Favre may have caused the guy who put him on the cover to curse, but I’m not sure his drop in numbers can be attributed to it. New team, new playbook, no curse.
Year: Madden ‘10
Cover: Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald
Well, 50-50 ain’t bad I suppose. While Polamalu got injured twice in the 2009 campaign, Fitzgerald played all 16 games, caught nearly 100 balls (97) and racked up 1,092 yards. Although down from his 1,400+ yards in 2008, some of the drop off in Fitzgerald’s play can be attributed to the aging of his quarterback, Kurt Warner.
Analysis: Polamalu was clearly cursed in 2009, playing just five games. Fitz, on the other hand, had a solid year and has continued his trend of 1,000 yard seasons. One to one looks like a push to me.
Year: Madden ‘11
Cover: Saints quarterback Drew Brees
2009 stats: 4,338 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
2010 stats: 4,620 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 22 interceptions
While the increase in interceptions is worrisome, Brees had a very respectable 2010, hardly numbers that I would deem “cursed.” Point anti- curse.
Year: Madden ‘12
Cover: Browns running back Peyton Hillis
2010 stats: 1,177 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
2011 stats: 587 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns
Hillis came out of nowhere to end up on the cover of Madden ’12, then returned to nowhere during the ’11 season.
Analysis: putting him on the cover might have been a bit premature, but this one counts for the curse nonetheless.
Year: Madden ‘13
2011 stats: 1,681 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns
Calvin Johnson clearly has all the talent you can ask of a wide receiver. He is tall, fast, and can jump clear out of Ford Field. He has proven to be fairly durable throughout his career in Detroit, so an injury this season would definitely seem to be a curse to me.
Johnson becomes the only wideout to appear solo on the cover, with Fitzgerald being the other WR to appear (shared with Polamalu).
Final analysis: well, it has come down to a close battle, with the curse trailing the anti-curse 7.5-7. Only a few careers have been ruined due to the curse (Alexander, Vick and Hillis to some extent) and even though some suffered injuries the year they appeared on the cover of Madden (Polamalu, Vick, McNabb, Culpepper), it isn’t enough evidence for me to confirm the curse.
Injuries are part of the NFL, and roughly half of all NFL players will be hurt at some point this year, making five injuries out of seventeen players pretty irrelevant.
Plus, John Madden is still alive and well- there can’t be a curse right?
Unless he is the one cursing the players of course.
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