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Going over history of the “Madden Curse”

With the Madden 24 cover being revealed, we look back at the history of the video game cover athlete curse.

Electronic Arts Debuts New Games At E3 Conference Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As EA Sports releases Madden 24 to the world this week, we take a look back at the history of the Madden Curse. The video game’s first iteration was released in 1988 and had none other than its namesake, John Madden, on its cover.

In 1998 though, EA put San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst on the cover of Madden NFL 99. Hearst suffered a severe ankle break during a game shortly after that required years of rehabilitation.

And if it had stopped there, no one would have thought twice about the connection. But it didn’t.

Barry Sanders, widely considered one of the greatest running backs of all time, was chosen for the Madden NFL 2000 cover and promptly announced his shocking decision to retire and walk away from the sport. Titans RB Eddie George was on the game’s cover in 2001, and while he didn’t retire or get injured, he lost the ball on a play that ended the Titans’ postseason that year. 2002 saw Daunte Culpepper suffer a knee injury that ended his season, and 2003 saw an inexplicable decline in Marshall Faulk’s on-field production after his cover feature.

And it keeps going. Michael Vick was on the cover in 2004 and fractured his leg in the preseason. Ray Lewis was on the 2005 cover, and followed that up with a zero-interception season — the first time that had ever happened in his career. Donovan McNabb, 2006, ACL and meniscus tear. Shaun Alexander, 2007, broke his foot in Week 3.

In 2008, LaDainian Tomlinson was almost on the cover, until fans stepped in and ran a campaign to keep him off of the game and as far away from the curse as possible. Instead, Vince Young and Luis Castillo were both chosen. That season, Castillo was sidelined by a knee injury and Young missed his first ever game due to injury. It was also Young’s last season as a starter.

In 2009, they tried to avoid disaster by putting a retiring Brett Favre on the cover to honor his years in Green Bay. Well, Favre walked right into this one, announcing that he was coming out of retirement and then proceeding to put together a very mediocre season with the Jets that ended in — you guessed it — a right shoulder injury.

This trend largely continued throughout the 2010s. Even if the cover athletes weren’t injured in the following season, they often saw an unexpected decrease in production. Drew Brees put together one of his worst seasons after he was on the cover in 2011. Adrian Peterson and Rob Gronkowski were both injured. But there was good news — people were finally starting to avoid the curse.

Calvin Johnson put together one of his best seasons with the Lions after being on the cover. of Madden 13, becoming the first to break the curse. Richard Sherman had a great season with the Seahawks, Odell Beckham, Jr. was a Pro Bowler, Tom Brady won his third MVP, and Patrick Mahomes won a Super Bowl.

In fact, the curse has not struck since Madden 19, and some would argue it goes back to 2017, as Antonio Brown’s issues were in the offseason. Madden himself was on the cover in 2023. Will the curse ever come back? We’ll have to watch this year’s cover athlete.