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Peyton Hillis- victim of the worst Madden Curse of all time?

In about a week voting will open for the cover player for Madden NFL 13. If you love your team at all I beg you to vote for a player not on your team's roster. Last Season (likely soon to be former) Cleveland Browns Running Back Peyton Hillis graced the cover as winner of the second ever Madden fan poll beating out Michael Vick.

and I think no one has ever been as Madden cursed as he has been.

So who is Peyton Hillis and what happened to him? Well let me share with you a Cleveland fan's perspective.

From Zero to Hero

After a productive yet unremarkable 4-year career as a Fullback and return man at University of Arkansas, Hillis was taken in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. While with Denver Hillis scarcely played and was riddled with injuries, despite occasional flashes of brilliance. He was unceremoniously dumped by the Broncos to the Cleveland Browns along with a 6th round pick in exchange for under-performing QB Brady Quinn in 2010.

With Cleveland in 2010, Hillis quickly ascended to the starting Hb role in Week 3 after injuries decimated the roster. For the rest of 2010 Hillis put gaudy numbers in Eric Mangini's run centric offense. He won AFC offensive player of the week in Week 9, becoming the first Brown in nearly twenty years to win the honor and ends up being runner up in MVP voting.

2010 Stats

GPAttYdsAvgTDRecYdsAvgTD
1527011774.411614777.82

In addition to his performance, Hillis' good ole boy hardworking blue collar nature persona (and enormous biceps) made him a fan favorite. For his breakout season Hillis was voted by Madden fans to the Cover of Madden NFL 12.

From Hero to Zero

Almost immediately things started to go wrong for Hillis.

  • Late 2010 - Early 2011 - His coach Eric Mangini was fired by Club president Mike Holmgren and replaced by Pat Shurmur, a coach who runs a pass heavy West Coast Offense. Going into Camp Hillis was informed that his role was likely going to be changed in the new offense and that he would need to improve his blocking. The NFL players are locked out preventing Hillis from learning the new offense
  • Early 2011 - Hillis fired his agent Jimmy Sexton and hires Kelly Masters, in July she is fired and he hires Kennard McGuire, making McGuire Hillis's third agent in 2011.
  • Summer 2011- Once in camp on the advice of McGuire, Hillis begins to grumble on and off the record about the Browns not offering him the extension and raise he wants. Club president Holmgren claims he is trying "like crazy" to sign Hillis. Hillis who makes $500,500 in 2011 is believed to be asking for $12 million in guaranteed money. When another Brown gets an extension, Hillis starts to go public with his feelings about being "disrespected" by The Browns. Reporters start to cover the Hillis story closely. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes him as saying later on- "You feel unappreciated because you want to get something done and nothing has gotten done at this point. As far as that goes, you don't know the ultimate feelings in the end of what's going on up top. You take it with a grain of salt and you keep moving on." http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2011/10/cleveland_browns_rb_peyton_hil_6.html
  • late Summer- Hillis struggles to pick up the new offense due to the NFL lockout shortened camp. The new offense requires more blocking and outside the tackle running for Hillis, neither of which are his forte. Hillis tweaks his chronically weak hamstrings late in camp.
  • Weeks 1-2 - Hillis is largely ineffective in his limited appearances, his effort is questioned by Browns beat reporters. Head coach Shurmur reduces his workload in practice on concerns Hillis is over working himself.
  • Week 3 - Hillis sits out of the Miami Dolphins game at the last minute on the advice of his agent, due to fear of him getting hurt since he was recovering from "Strep Throat and Flu-like symptoms". The Browns narrowly win a close game against a perceived inferior opponent and some of the team internally blames Hillis. Hillis tells the media it was his agent's fault.
  • After Week 3 - Qb Colt McCoy and the offense hold their first intervention team meeting with Hillis about his attitude and commitment to the team.
  • Week 6 - Hillis pulls his hamstring early in the Oakland game. Browns PR personnel fail to report this to the tv media covering the game and announcers mistakenly conclude on air he has been benched. Hillis is inactive for several weeks, ultimately he misses 5 games throughout the season. During one of the weeks he is "rehabing" he secretly goes to Arkansas to get married. Browns mgt is not pleased.

  • Mid October/Trade deadline - Browns Gm Tom Heckert and head coach Shurmur hint that they are no longer certain they want Hillis Back in 2012-2013 season, Browns first deny and then entertain to trade offers for Hillis. Hillis is not traded.

  • Early November - Hillis skips a Halloween charity fund raiser for the Cleveland Boys & Girls Club with no explanation. Co-host and Former Cleveland browns Center LeCharles Bentley strongly criticizes him publicly. Hillis blames his brother Kyle Hillis (and business manager) for not telling him the correct time.

  • Early December- In a press conference stating that he wants to return to Cleveland and retire as a Brown, Hillis instead talks mainly about endorsing Ron Paul for president in 2012 which cause more angst in parts of heavily democratic Cleveland.

  • Late season - Hillis seems to reforms his attitude, refuses to talk about his contract issues any further and performs well in the remainder of the season, including a 100+ yd game against Baltimore. The Browns finish 4-12. Despite early in the season denying the existence of the Madden Curse, Hillis now blames his poor performance in the season on it. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes him as saying- "No doubt about it," Hillis finally admitted Thursday. "Things haven't worked to my favor this year. There's a few things that happened that made me believe in curses. Ain't no doubt about it." http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2011/12/cleveland_browns_peyton_hillis_11.html

  • Post season- Browns pass on franchising Hillis for 7.7 million, Heckert say Hillis is welcome back at "the right price' (I.e. a lot less less money than the franchise tag). Hillis fires agent Kennard McGuire. [UPDATE 3/1/2012 - Hillis apparently has contemplated retirement (and may still be) to pursue a career with the Central Intelligence Agency- no joke]

2011 stats

GPAttYdsAvgTDRecYdsAvgTD
101615873.63221305.90

Change from 2010

GPAttYdsAvgTDRecYdsAvgTD
-33%-40%-50%-18%-73%-64%-73%-24%-100%

It's been a circus for Hillis and Browns fans for a year now. For most seemingly affected by the Madden curse usually one aspect of their career suffers a setback. In Peyton's case not only Hillis' on the field performance suffer, his health suffered, his wealth suffered as the likelihood of him getting a big money contract from the Browns severely diminished and his reputation among fans and peers was severely tarnished.

If nothing else this season probably cost Peyton Hillis tens of million so dollars in potential lifetime earnings. I think most expected a come back to earth season for Hillis, but this is incredible.

And that's why in my opinion no cover player of Madden has yet suffered such a complete collapse in prospects and reputation as Peyton Hillis has in their cover year.

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