Cover athletes are a part of Americana now. In fact next to the MVPs, I could argue that there isn’t any greater honor than being selected to represent a league’s flagship video game franchise. Nothing showcases an athlete’s domination than seeing their face at every Target across the world. But sometimes video game cover athletes can encapsulate a depressing or hilarious moment when an everyday player somehow stumbles into national ubiquity.
Those are our favorite covers, because they remind us of simpler times, they remind us when we thought Vince Young was going to own the league, not a steakhouse. So in tribute to our innocence, here are the 11 most inexplicable cover athletes in sports gaming history.
Kordell Stewart - NFL Blitz
This doesn't make me laugh, it just makes me sad. Kordell Stewart is living proof that we are all impermanent beings and that eventually the world will pass us by and all we can do is look at the cover of NFL Blitz we were on in 1998. It almost feels insulting to Stewart's two year legacy now. I mean, nobody ever gave Sam Bradford a video game cover.
Ben Wallace – ESPN NBA 2K5
So after five straight years of putting Allen Iverson on the cover of their video game, Visual Concepts decided that shooting 39 percent from the field and winning exactly one game in the NBA Finals wasn’t a good look for a franchise. Unfortunately this was 2004, when the unmarketable (but lovable!) Pistons won the title against Kobe, Shaq, and a washed-up Karl Malone and Gary Payton -- not to mention budding author Phil Jackson.
Welcome Ben Wallace, your NBA 2K4 cover athlete. I guarantee this is the first and last time someone who scored about 6,000 points in his career ends up on the cover of a basketball game.
Sparty – NCAA Football 2009
For some context, Sparty was only on the cover of the Wii version of NCAA Football 2009. PS2 got DeSean Jackson, PS3 got Matt Ryan, and the 360 got Darren McFadden. But not Nintendo, apparently EA thinks the people that play sports video games on the Wii have a very tenuous mental capacity that is best treated with a big dumb Spartan with big dumb cartoon eyes. And you know what? They might not be wrong.
Marcus Camby - NBA In The Zone 2000
What exciting young center did you put on the cover of your 2000 basketball game? Shaq? Tim Duncan? Dirk Nowitzki? Oh, Marcus Camby.
Was 12 points a game really that exciting? The New York bias is so real.
Maybe this was part of the reason that there was no NBA In The Zone 2001 or 2002, or 2003, or 2004 or...
Adam Morrison – NCAA March Madness 07
Morrison's NBA futility would make this cover look pretty ridiculous in retrospect.
Also, Kevin Durant was on the cover of the next game, which doesn't help things.
Dontrelle Willis - MLB Slugfest
One of the beautiful things about cover athletes is that they can accidentally confirm the credence of advanced stats. Take Dontrelle Willis, who was riding high with a career 22-10 record which earned him a spot on the MLB Slugfest cover. There he is, right next to Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez. Less than five years later he'd be out of the league, boasting a 28-45 record after appearing on the Slugfest cover. Whoops.
TIE: Antoine Walker and Keith Van Horn - NBA Live '99 and NBA Jam '99
In 1999, video game developers decided it would be a good idea to showcase Keith Van Horn in a game based almost entirely on dunking. Seriously, NBA Courtside had Kobe Bryant, so Jam decided to counter with KEITH VAN HORN? And then there's Antoine Walker, who anchored a terrible Celtics team and actually in his own way, was probably better suited for video game style basketball given that he shot .256 on 285 three-point attempts in 1999.
Rob Van Dam - Road to Wrestlemania X8
The fact that Rob Van Dam was once popular enough to be on the cover of a video game is proof that wrestling will always be a little bit dumb.
Shawne Merriman – NFL Tour
This was a “hardcore” arcade football game, the kind of game that tried to channel the spirit of NFL Blitz but instead felt floaty and unsatisfying. The commentators made the same hilarious football jokes that Jay Mariotti made in 1999. Rooney was on the soundtrack. Actually it makes perfect sense that the cover athlete had been charged for battery and doping around the time NFL Tour hit store shelves.
Peyton Hillis – Madden NFL ‘12
There seriously couldn’t have been anyone else. I love that Hillis was selected via public vote, because it either means the entirety of the Madden fan base was desperately trying to confirm the Madden Curse, or that white people are deeply, deeply frightened. We all knew Hillis was going to disappear. It wasn’t even a question. He played for the Browns. He endorsed Ron Paul. He lives on a Soybean farm. A truly virtuosic bust, bravo Peyton Hillis, bravo.
Probably would have been a better fit for NHL 2004... or 1994.