Madden Curse in Football Complete History and Timeline
In sports, there are loads of curses. From the Red Sox's curse of the Great Bambino, to the Cubs' Billy Goat curse, to even the Drake curse. Although, when it comes to sports video games, there is one that stands above the rest - the Madden Curse.
The curse asserts that whichever NFL player appears on the cover of the game, suffers a bad fate in some manner in either the following season or soon after it.
Here, we will break down every season of the game since 2000 (the year the first player appeared on the cover of the game instead of John Madden himself) and see what happened to them, or how the curse got their number.
Madden Curse Timeline
1. Madden 99: Garrison Hurst
Garrison Hurst was the first player to appear on the cover of the Madden video game and at the time, he seemed like a viable choice. He was in the midst of a great run and even helped lead his San Francisco 49ers' team to the NFL Playoffs. He then suffered a broken ankle that was so bad he ended up missing two full seasons because of it. He was never the same player again.
2. Madden 2000: Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders, one of the greatest running backs of all time, appeared on the Madden cover when he dawned it for Madden 2000, ahead of the 1999 season. Sanders, would go on to pull one of the more shocking moves in the sport's history by unexpectedly retiring during training camp, similar to what Andrew Luck did ahead of the 2019 season. Sanders would never play again.
3. Madden 2001: Eddie George
Eddie George was arguably the best running back in football when he was on the Madden 2001 cover. While he didn't suffer as instant of a fate as some others on this list, George fumbled the ball from a strip by Ray Lewis in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens that year, which was ultimately a big part of the Tennessee Titans being eliminated in that game. The following year, the injuries began for George until he retired after the 2004 season.
4. Madden 2002: Daunte Culpepper
Daunte Culpepper was the leader of one of the NFL's most exciting and prolific offenses with Randy Moss and Chris Carter. He was a rising star in the NFL and it landed him on the Madden 2002 cover. The year prior, Culpepper had the Minnesota Vikings sitting 11-5 with 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Once on the Madden cover when it was released in September 2001, Culpepper took a huge step back in production, throwing 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions before leading the Vikings to a 4-7 record and suffering a season-ending knee injury.
5. Madden 2003: Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk was the star do-it-all running back in the St. Louis Rams' offense which came to be known as "The Greatest Show on Turf." The season he graced the cover, he suffered a lingering ankle injury that caused him to miss two games and prevented him from rushing for 1,000 yards, a feat he would never accomplish again in his career. He was in the league for a few more seasons after that, but he posted unimpressive numbers (never rushing for more than 818 yards or playing more than 14 games in a season) before ultimately retiring.
6. Madden 2004: Michael Vick
Michael Vick in Madden 2004, to this day, is still considered the closest thing to a "cheat code" that a sports video game has to offer. He was lighting quick and seemingly couldn't be tackled. Unfortunately, Michael Vick shattered his leg during the preseason that year and missed 11 games.
7. Madden 2005: Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis was one of the best defensive players in the NFL when he made the Madden 2005 cover. That season he opened the year by breaking his wrist, although, he only missed one game because of it. He failed to record and interception for the first time in his career and took a significant step back in tackles. Some could argue the curse didn't actually get him until the following season, when he only played in six games due to injury.
8. Madden 2006: Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL prior to landing the Madden cover. However, in his first game of the season, McNabb got hurt and ended up missing seven games that season. It was also the year he endured a very pubic feud with star wide receiver Terrell Owens. McNabb never made it back to the Pro Bowl after that season.
9. Madden 2007: Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander was coming off one of the best seasons ever for a running back, breaking the single-season rushing touchdown record. Once on the cover, Alexander fractured his foot, missing six games and never truly recovered from the injury. He was out of the league entirely soon after that.
10. Madden 2008: Vince Young
After a historic college career, Vince Young was one of the brightest rising stars in the NFL (winning Rookie of the Year and making a Pro Bowl), that is until he graced the cover of Madden. Young would miss a game due to injury that season, but that was only the beginning if his troubles to come. Young was soon deemed mentally unstable and placed on suicide watch. The Titans ended up releasing him and he bounced around the league for a few years after that, before ultimately taking a job back at the University of Texas, of which he was later fired from.
11. Madden 2009: Brett Favre
Brett Favre spent this season with the New York Jets, which on top of the on-the-field struggles, came with a ton of negative off-the-field attention. Favre also ended up playing the last part of the season with a bicep injury, losing four of his last five games and ultimately moving on to Minnesota.
12. Madden 2010: Troy Polamalu & Larry Fitzgerald
Even though there were two players on the cover for the 2010 version of the game, both players had unfortunate events to follow. The Pittsburgh Steelers, coming off a Super Bowl win over the Arizona Cardinals in the previous season, missed the NFL Playoffs and Troy Polamalu only played in five games due to a slew of knee injuries. Larry Fitzgerald, on the other hand, survived the regular season, but missed the entire playoffs with a rib injury.
13. Madden 2011: Drew Brees
Drew Brees was also able to survive the regular season, but in the first round of the playoffs, the New Orleans Saints went up against a Seattle Seahawks team that made the playoffs at 7-9. New Orleans was the biggest betting favorite in playoff history at the time, but the Saints still lost to Seattle and went home way earlier than expected.
14. Madden 2012: Peyton Hillis
Peyton Hillis might be the definition of a one-hit wonder in the NFL. After rushing for more than 1,100 yards to earn the cover spot, Hillis barely cracked that total by a combined total over the next four seasons. He was then out of the league.
15. Madden 2013: Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson broke the single-season receiving yards record in his cover year, and still grabbed at least 1,000 yards in his next three seasons, but Johnson unexpectedly retired early from the NFL after just nine seasons with the Detroit Lions.
16. Madden 2014 (Madden 25): Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson recovered from an ACL tear to almost break the NFL single-season rushing record the year before he was on the cover, but he ended up dropping off big time by more than 800 yards. However it wasn't until the season after that Peterson felt the curse, missing all but one game of the 2014 season.
17. Madden 2015: Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman ended up putting up a great season following his appearance on the cover. He injured his elbow, but it ended up healing in time for the following season. His stats did dip for the most part over the following few seasons, before ultimately being released by the Seahawks and signed by the 49ers, where he has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence.
18. Madden 2016: Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. had some image issues the year he was on the cover, but his performance on the field was actually quite good. It wasn't until the 2017 season when Beckham sustained a serious leg injury, missing 12 games. Following one more lower-production season in New York, he was dealt to the Cleveland Browns this past offseason, where he has endured the worst statistical year of his career.
19. Madden 2017: Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski technically won a Super Bowl the year he was on the cover, but he still had an injury-riddled season. He started only six games, missing the entire postseason and ended the regular season with 25 catches, 540 yards and three touchdowns.
20. Madden 2018: Tom Brady
While Tom Brady himself put up one of his best statistical seasons of his career in his cover year, his New England Patriots ended up losing in the Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles, led by backup quarterback Nick Foles in one of the bigger Super Bowl upsets in history.
21. Madden 2019: Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown was unarguably the best wide receiver in football when he was awarded the Madden cover. His stats on the field didn't seem to be affected by the curse, but the same cannot be said for his off-the-field dealings. Brown was traded by the Steelers due to all of his antics following the season, and things only got worse from there. He never even played a regular-season snap for the Oakland Raiders, giving himself frostbite and basically demanding to be released within days of training camp starting. He was then signed by the Patriots, who were then forced to cut him after appearing in just one game when Brown was accused of sexual assault. He has been out of the league with no timetable for return since then.
22. Madden 20: Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes won a Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP award, so it wasn't all bad. Still, his production dropped significantly from where it was in the 2018 season that earned him the cover spot, and he also dealt with a scary mid-season knee injury that cost him two games.
23. Madden 21: Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson had a significant decline in production after gracing the Madden 21 cover following an MVP season. He saw a sharp drop-off in passing touchdowns (36 to 26) while throwing for fewer yards (2,757) and more interceptions (9) than he had the prior year. He also had 201 fewer rushing yards, and his Baltimore Ravens lost in the Divisional Round after making the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
24. Madden 22: Tom Brady & Patrick Mahomes
I guess you could call it a disappointing season for Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes after gracing the cover (for a second time each), as both failed to make it back to the Super Bowl. But this was hardly a curse year. Brady led the NFL in both passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43), while Mahomes ranked fourth in both those categories as well.
25. Madden 23: John Madden
No curse here with an incredible tribute. After passing away in December 2021, John Madden was the obvious choice to grace the cover of the next Madden game in a touching tribute.
26. Madden 24: Josh Allen
TBD., At this point, disappointingly falling short of the Super Bowl has become the norm for Josh Allen. A big season would help him buck that trend and the Madden Curse at the same time.
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David Kaestle is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, David also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username davekaestle. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.