The Madden Curse is a superstitious belief that athletes who are featured on the cover art for the yearly entries in the Madden NFL series will suffer a significant drop-off in performance the following season, typically due to a severe injury. Other factors may include the notion that the athlete involved may have had an anomalously superb season the year before, and the following "cursed" season is simply the result of the player's performance returning to an average level.The curse only begins with the Madden games that were released from 2000 onward because that was the first year that the Madden cover prominently displayed a top NFL player. Prior to that, every cover had only John Madden prominently displayed.
2001 Eddie George
2000 Season - George bobbled a pass that was intercepted to end the Titans quest to the Super Bowl.
2001 is seemingly an anomaly in the phenomenon, as 2000 was George's best season, statistically speaking. He rushed for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns during the regular season, almost 400 yards in the post-season, and caught two touchdowns during the Super Bowl.
2002 Dante Culpepper
2001 Season - The Vikings were 4-7, then Culpepper had a knee injury that caused him to miss 5 games. The Vikings finished at 5-11 that season.
2003 Marshall Faulk
2002 Season - Plagued by an ankle injury, he rushed for under 1,000 yards. He had four straight seasons over 1,300 yards previously. The Rams went 7-9.
2004 Michael Vick
2003 Season - One day after the game hit shelves, Vick suffered a fractured right fibula in a preseason game. He only played in 5 games, and the Falcons went 5-11.
2005 Ray Lewis
2004 Season - Lewis seemingly avoided the curse, as his stats matched some of his best seasons. However, he did not have a single interception, and the Ravens went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Lewis was also indicted for suspicion of aggravated assault and murder.
2006 Donovan McNabb
2005 Season - Though he played well in September and October, McNabb's play dropped off due to a sports hernia and a sore thumb, which caused him to miss seven games. The Eagles missed the playoffs, finishing 6-10.
2007 Shaun Alexander
2006 Season - Alexander broke his foot in the third game of the season and missed the next six games. The Seahawks made the playoffs but lost in the divisional round.
Unlike previous cursed players, Alexander never recovered after his cover appearance. He played two more seasons for the Seahawks, but was relegated to backup duties in 2007 and cut by the team after the season. He played in four games for the Redskins in 2008, only carrying the ball 11 times for 24 yards.
2008 Vince Young
2007 Season - Young seemingly avoided the Madden Curse. He missed only one game and threw for over 2,500 yards and nine touchdowns, though he did throw 17 interceptions. The Titans finished at 9-7 and made the playoffs, losing in the wild card game.
2009 Brett Favre
2008 Season - Favre made the cover upon announcing his retirement. However, he changed his mind and was traded to the New York Jets. They started off the season 8-3 but lost four of the last five games and missed the playoffs, largely due to a drop in Favre's performance. After the season, an MRI determined that Favre had a torn bicep.
2010 Troy Polamalu
2009 Season - Sprained his MCL in the season opener, which caused him to miss nearly the entire season. After starting 6-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers went on a five game losing streak that took them out of playoff contention. The loss of Polamalu was cited as one of the main reasons why the Steeler's defense performed so poorly during the season.
Co-cover athlete, Larry Fitzgerald, had over 1000 yards receiving, and a career high 13 touchdown receptions during the regular season. The Cardinals won the NFC West division for the second straight year.
2011 Drew Brees
2010 Playoffs - Madden fans were allowed to vote for the cover athlete of the 2011 edition. Unfortunately for Drew Brees, fan voting made no difference as the curse has hit him as well. Brees's Saints lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, the first team in NFL history to win its division and make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9). The loss is considered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NFL playoffs.
2012 Peyton Hillis
2011 Season - The Cleveland Browns running back Madden fan vote winner, who had a breakout season in 2010, suffered major setbacks in 2011. He suffered a steep drop in production and missed 5 games due to chronic hamstring problems. Hillis was also involved in an ongoing nasty contract dispute with the Browns that caused a major distraction for the team. He raised the ire of his teammates by sitting out game three voluntarily against the Miami Dolphins on the advice of his agent due to concerns he may get hurt in a contract year since he was recovering from Strep throat. Hillis also no-showed at a Kids' charity event and contemplated retirement to pursue a career with the CIA. The Browns would cut ties with Hillis after the season. Hillis would never return to prominence and would be out of the NFL completely within a few years.
2013 Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson largely seemed to avoid any ill effects of being on the cover of Madden as he nearly had a 2,000 receiving yard season. His Team the Lions badly underperformed expectations by going 4-12. He later admitted he played through the season with broken fingers
2014 Adrian Peterson (Barry Sanders co-cover)
Adrian Peterson would go onto have a mostly successful 2013 season although he was only able to play 14 games due to a foot injury. The following season however would see his reputation destroyed and suspension with no pay from the NFL after Adrian Peterson was indicted by a Texas Grand Jury for child abuse. Adrian Peterson would ultimately accept a plea deal, pleading no contest to charge of recklessly assaulting his son in exchange for probation and 80 hours of community service.
Barry Sanders, a retired player, would seem to have been completely unaffected by his presence on the cover.
2015 Richard Sherman
Sherman would badly injure his elbow in the NFC championship game, although he was able to continue playing. His fellow members of the Seattle Secondary who were featured on menu screens in the game, nicknamed the "Legion of Boom", would have worse luck.
Earl Thomas dislocated his shoulder in the NFC championship game, Kam Chancellor tore his MCL in a practice leading up to the Super Bowl and Jeremy Lane tore his ACL on an interception return during the Superbowl. Of the players featured on the menu screens, Byron Maxwell would be the only one to escape grievous injury, although he did miss 3 regular season games with a strained calf. The Seattle Seahawks would ultimately lose the Superbowl to the New England Patriots on the final play.