Celebrating 25 Years of Madden (And 16 Years of the Madden Curse)
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
This year. Madden turns 25. Not Coach John Madden, who would singlehandedly prove that a lifetime of turducken and “booms!” on the teleprompter has a way of keeping you young. No, the video game franchise that shares its name with the legendary coach is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And to celebrate, fans have voted Barry Sanders to be on the cover, edging out Adrian Peterson (the same AP who came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing yardage record).
There was a time back in the day when you could run 7-step slant patterns from Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin ad nausea, marching down the field repeatedly to victory. Now, players can use both analog joysticks as independent hands for breaking up passes, being connected to the internet can provide real-time weather in-game and you can create the fantasy team you never come close to drafting each year.
Suffice it to say, the game has changed dramatically in each annual iteration. One thing that has remained constant since 1999 is a player getting the cover. Typically, that player on the cover was coming off of a monster year statistically and at the peak of their careers. It also created the fabled “Madden Curse,” in which the player on the cover suffered a major injury or decline in performance the year of their appearance. With a retired player making his second appearance on the cover of the quarter-century edition, now seems as good a time as ever to go back and look at the curse.
Below is a table showing all the cover athletes going back to 1999, the first year the franchise started using a particular player on the cover. As you can see, the idea behind a curse is sound, as most of the players on the cover suffered everything from injuries causing them to miss a few games, to season (and career) ending injuries to even retirement itself. Sanders actually retired after appearing on the cover and some would argue that retirement was when he was at his most electric.
Quarterbacks seemed to suffer either a major injury (Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Dante Culpepper) or decline in ability (Vince Young, Drew Brees). Running backs seemed to lose a step, as evidenced by Garrison Hearst, Dorsey Levens, Eddie George, Marshall Faulk and Peyton Hillis. There were rumors that LaDainian Tomlinson was slated to be the 2007 cover athlete and his fans were against it, prompting him to decline the offer due to “contract negotiations.”
Honestly, you could make a case that being on the cover actually helps Wide Receivers. Larry Fitzgerald posted the third most receptions of his career, fourth most yards and a career high 13 TDs. Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) pretty much set a bunch of career bests, while also besting the legendary Jerry Rice’s single-season yardage record. Both Fitzgerald and Johnson posted great years after being on the cover, bucking the trend that had plagued players in previous years.
With Sanders on the 25th anniversary cover, conspiracy theorists won’t really get the chance to say whether or not there really is a curse. Obviously, if Sanders does get injured it won’t be from playing football. Whether or not there really has been a curse to this point is still a little murky. You could look at the above table and say that most of the cover players did suffer some sort of malady the season following their appearance on the cover. 50% of the players suffered an injury, while another 38% saw a drop in performance.
Regardless of where you fall on the believe it or not spectrum, the fact remains that football is a dangerous, contact sport. It’s inevitable that injuries occur and it’s not as if the only players to get injured are those on the cover. There’s a reason why a lot of people play Madden and not real football: talent and wanting to avoid injury. Both are on full display in the athlete chosen for the cover and both come with their own inherent risks.
Honestly though, the 25th anniversary cover should have just been Madden eating a turducken leg, with a circle around it and “boom” written in big letters. That would’ve been a cover worth celebrating.