Eric Mack
Thursday April 28th, 2011

The people have spoken. Peyton Hillis will adorn the cover of Madden NFL '12.

The people are geniuses.

There was little reason to ruin such a promising fantasy 2011 season for the other candidates. Hillis beat out Michael Vick in the final vote to be on the cover of the popular video game, the one infamous for the Madden Curse.

If you're not familiar with it, the Madden Curse is the phenomenon in which whomever is on the cover of the game suffers at least a season, if not a career, collapse. Vick, Eagles fans and his fantasy owners have to be elated his breakthrough season won't go the way of the Curse. Once in a career is enough for Vick and his owners.

Hillis on the other hand, makes complete sense. A surprising 2010 breakthrough figures to make him a popular bust candidate in fantasy next season. He is almost certain to go bust now.

Hillis has a number of warning signs for a disappointing encore. He endured a late-season slump, costing owners in fantasy crunch time. Also, the return to health of 2010 second-round pick Montario Hardesty figures to cut into Hillis' carries and use. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has already reported Hardesty and Hillis will be used in tandem next season.

But fantasy owners will be all too quick to remember all the great things Hillis did for them. He came out of nowhere -- even off the waiver wire -- as a third-year running back to finish second to Arian Foster in fantasy points at the all-important running back position. Hillis, who had started just seven games in his young career, rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and catch 67 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs.

Hillis' remarkable run started in all places, at Baltimore against Ray Lewis' defense. He became a starter in that Week 3 game and rushed 22 times for 144 yards, a season-best 6.5 yards per carry. His busy day included a season-high seven receptions.

Even if he declined precipitously in the crucial final weeks of the season, he enjoyed a fantasy MVP season relative for where he was drafted. In fact, he probably wasn't even drafted in your league.

Likely neither was Vick, who took over the Eagles starting quarterback role after starring in the second half of a Week 1 loss against the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. Out of the league for three years after doing time for dog fighting charges, he set career highs with 3,018 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns and nine rushing touchdowns. He finished the No. 5-scoring quarterback in fantasy, despite playing what amounts to around 11 of 16 games.

Vick, not Hillis, has far more potential to be even better in '11 than '10. It would have been a waste to ruin such fantasy potential ... if you believe in curses.

LaDainian Tomlinson rejected a proposal to be on the cover in '07 after a fan made the web site He saved himself and led the NFL in yards and TDs in '06 and '07.

Fantasy owners might not necessarily be a superstitious group all around, but they like to reduce risk as much as possible.

"I don't know that we believe in the curse," Chris Erb, the EA Sports director of marketing said. "The players don't believe in the curse."

Well, then these "losers" have nothing to be thankful for, L.T.-style -- although some of us know better. Here are the early round fantasy picks who "lost" out in the vote: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings; RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars; RB Ray Rice, Ravens; QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers; QB Vick, Eagles; QB Drew Brees, Saints; and WR Andre Johnson, Texans.

From the publication that invented cover jinxes, Sports Illustrated, we break down the evolution of the Curse:

2001 -- RB Eddie George, Titans

After a career year in '00 with 1,509 yards and 14 TDs, George slumped to full-season lows 939 yards and 5 TDs. He never averaged better than 3.4 yards per carry in any successive season.

2002 -- QB Daunte Culpepper, Vikings

Culpepper threw a career-worst 23 INTs in the '02 season and wound up having a mess of a career later in the decade, including multiple knee injuries.

2003 -- RB Marshall Faulk, Rams

Faulk played in a career-low 11 games and began having knee issues that would end his career for good in '05.

2004 -- QB Vick, Eagles

He broken his leg in the preseason after being on the cover and later had the legal problems that landed him in jail and kept him off the field for full years.

2005 -- LB Ray Lewis, Ravens

Lewis missed the last game of '04 season with a wrist injury and played a career-low six games in '05.

2006 -- QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles

McNabb tore his ACL and meniscus in the season after being on the cover and played just 10 games in '06.

2007 -- RB Shaun Alexander, Seahawks

Alexander went from the NFL MVP to missing six games with a foot injury that all but ended his career and success for fantasy owners.

2008 -- QB Vince Young, Titans

Young threw a career high 17 INTs in the season after being on the cover and wound up playing just three games, starting one, in the '08 season. He also struggled with depression and dealt with rumors of considering suicide, which he denied.

2009 -- QB Brett Favre, Packers

Favre was on the cover as a Packer, but he came out of retirement and led the league with 22 INTs. He also suffered through a disappointing season with the Jets that wound up leading to allegations of inappropriate behavior with Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger.

2010 -- WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals and S Troy Polamalu, Steelers

Polamalu's curse hit him right away, missing all but five games of the '09 season after being on the cover. Fitzgerald's fall didn't happen until '10, when he struggled to live up to his lofty draft position and had a career-low six TDs.

2011 -- QB Drew Brees, Saints

Brees went from on top of the world with a Super Bowl title and MVP to tossing a career-worst 22 INTs -- double that of his previous season. Although he made it through the whole season, he did admit to having played through a troublesome tear in his knee.

You can see not everyone is affected in the same way and some breakdowns lag a season later. But there is something connected to what has become known as the Madden Curse.

It has taken on a life of its own. In fact, EA Sports announced this past December plans to make a comedy based on it. Those that wind up with Hillis this summer likely won't find it all that funny, though.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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