There was a parade through Chicago when the Cubs finally launched their Billy Goat Curse. The entire Red Sox nation celebrated when Boston reversed the Bambino’s curse.
Is it possible that Madden’s curse – not as old as its baseball counterparts but perhaps more entrenched in pop culture – is also over, and we never even realized it?
Or is more heartbreak lurking, just another bad break and a season or two?
The Madden NFL video game franchise is one of the most successful in the world. Redwood City-based EA Sports has sold an estimated 150 million copies of a game credited with teaching legions of fans – and many current NFL players and coaches – the nuances of football due to its realistic style of play.
Equally remarkable was the decades-long puzzle known as the Madden Curse.
Unfamiliar? Simply put, it’s the often-suggested explanation for the terrible injuries or sudden drops in performance that have followed an inordinate number of players who have graced Madden NFL game coverage over the past 25 years.
The cases have become less frequent in recent years, largely because Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, the cover actors for three of the past five editions, seem to be resistant to the curse. And there won’t be a curse this season: John Madden, former Raiders head coach, legendary broadcaster and powerhouse of the video game, returns to the cover for the first time since 1998, a tribute after his death in December at the age of 85.
But historically, trouble soon followed for Madden’s cover boys.
Debates rage over which players were cursed, but it’s safe to say that 16 of the 24 players who were featured on the cover either suffered injuries, saw their performance drop dramatically or suffered some sort of massive disappointment in the season. or in the playoffs. this season. That’s not even taking into account Barry Sanders, who made the cover in 1999 and shortly before the start of that season stunned the NFL by retiring while still in his prime and no longer has never played.
Technically, Madden’s curse isn’t a curse in the sense of fairy tales or horror movies. But a lot of fans think something is up or was happening. When game producers opened the cover slot to a fan vote, fans didn’t vote for their own team’s stars, they voted for their rivals, hoping for the downfall of an enemy by curse.
Players have publicly put on a brave face, with mixed results.
Brady tempted fate when he was cast as the cover actor for Madden 18, filming a tongue-in-cheek commercial where he stepped under a ladder and broke a mirror. Brady not only avoided injuries, but was the league MVP that covered the season. His Patriots, however, were upset by the Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl.
Former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, when asked about Madden’s curse when he was picked to start the 2007 game, replied, “Do you want to be injured and in coverage or just injured?” Alexander broke his foot weeks into his coverage and left the league two years later at age 31.
Publicly, only one player has declined a cover opportunity – then Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson for 2008 cover, but apparently that was more than he would be paid.
But the players speak. And they saw what happened to so many of their colleagues.
Peyton Manning, one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, who retired in 2016 after winning Super Bowl 50, devoted an episode of his ESPN+ series “Peyton’s Places” to the Madden Curse.
Manning surprisingly never did Madden NFL coverage and conceded, “I’m a little hurt that I was never asked.”
But would he have accepted?
“The answer is absolutely no,” Manning continued. “No. Scary. Luck.”
With that, Manning and Garrison Hearst, the episode guest who popped the question, burst out laughing on set.
Hearst, the former 49ers star running back, knows a bit about the subject. For many, he was patient zero of the Madden curse.
During the 1998 season, Hearst became the first player ever featured on a Madden NFL cover, but broke his ankle shortly after the game’s release and missed the next two seasons.
Hearst developed avascular necrosis, the same condition that ended the career of Bo Jackson, who was the biggest name in professional sports – and virtually unstoppable as the star of a rival football video game – when he hurt himself. But as Manning pointed out to Hearst, there is no Tecmo Bowl curse.
It wasn’t until several years after Hearst’s injury – after cover stars Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk and Michael Vick were struck down in succession in the early 2000s – that the legend of Madden’s Curse came to life. started to prevail. The concept didn’t even have a name until Alyssa Roenigk coined the phrase in a 2002 ESPN The Magazine article.
In 2012, after Donovan McNabb, Alexander, Vince Young, Troy Polamalu and even Brett Favre and Drew Brees (to some degree) also suffered misfortunes after making the cover, the Madden Curse was part of NFL lore. .
So, does Hearst believe in a Madden Curse?
“I don’t want to, because that means I’m the first to start it,” Hearst told Manning. “But something is happening. Look where I am, on ESPN+ (talk about it). “
Of course, not everyone buys into the curse talk, including the guy whose name was on the box of every Madden NFL game ever sold and whose likeness was splashed through the game’s first eight editions. .
“I was on the cover for several years, and I never even pulled a hamstring,” Madden said. “It’s a violent sport. Injuries will happen. »
EA Sports’ public position was that if players didn’t think there was a curse, neither did they. But in 2010, the company reportedly began developing a comedy film based on a former star gamer who abruptly comes out of retirement at the same time as he’s on the cover of a popular video game and has to endure a series of setbacks – a much like Favre’s 2008 season went.
In 2007, when Madden’s curse was really gaining momentum, former EA Sports marketing director Christopher Erb conceded to Time Magazine: “I didn’t tell people this, but I did. a bottle of champagne in my office that we’re ready to pop once someone breaks the curse.
That bottle sat on ice for a few more years until former Lions catcher Calvin Johnson began to reverse the curse in 2012 when, as a Madden NFL cover player, he had a career year, catching 122 passes for nearly 2,000 yards.
Brady and Mahomes have also helped quiet talk of the curse in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the pair of star quarterbacks are the only players to appear on the cover of Madden NFL twice, including together on last year’s edition.
Mahomes gave many people reason to believe the curse was finally over after the 2019 season, when the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback not only became Madden’s first active cover player to play and win the Super Bowl, but he was the MVP by beating the 49ers. .
“What curse? EA Sports triumphantly tweeted shortly after the game.
Only time will tell if the Madden NFL curse has truly been reversed.