Is the Madden Curse Still a Thing?

Now that Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes are featured together on the Madden 2022 cover, should fans still have a reason for concern?
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The cover athletes of the Madden 2022 video game have been revealed, as the duo of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady will be featured in this year’s edition. It’s the second time each of them has been featured on the cover, though they appeared individually in the past (Brady – 2018, Mahomes – 2020). Of course, the unveiling brings us back to the age-old question, at least in the world of football. Is there really a Madden curse?

Back in 2014, SI took a look at the featured Madden athletes, but much has changed since then! Let’s take a look at every cover athlete since players graced the cover beginning in 1999. Was there actually a curse, or was it all just a coincidence? 

Go down memory lane with me, and you can decide for yourself!

1999 – Garrison Hearst

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Hearst was the first athlete to ever be seen on a Madden cover (John Madden was on the cover in previous seasons). The veteran rushed for a career-best 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns in the 1998 regular season, but Hearst would sustain a serious ankle ailment in the postseason and was not able to return to action until the 2001 campaign.

The curse begins…

2000 – Barry Sanders and Dorsey Levens

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Sanders was announced as the Madden cover athlete for the 2000 version, but he went on to announce his retirement shortly thereafter. Levens would replace Sanders on the cover, and he had a successful 1999 campaign with over 1,600 scrimmage yards and an RB4 finish based on fantasy points. He did, however, deal with injuries the rest of his NFL career. In fact, he never rushed for more than 411 yards after the 1999 season.

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2001 – Eddie George

The genius of Eddie George was only amplified in Madden. Who can forget the 300- and 400-yard games? (EA Sports :: Bob Rosato/SI :: Bill Frakes/SI)

George avoided the curse in 2000, recording career bests in rushing yards (1,509) and total touchdowns (16). However, it would victimize him in 2001. George had what was a career-low 939 rushing yards with five touchdowns that season and would average a mediocre 876 yards in his final three seasons -- he averaged 1,375 yards in his first five.

2002 – Daunte Culpepper

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Culpepper earned an appearance on the cover after a 2000 season that saw him record 3,937 passing yards, 470 rushing yards, and 40 total touchdowns. Those totals helped him rank as the No. 2 quarterback in fantasy football. However, the curse did strike him down in 2001. Culpepper would miss the final five weeks due to an injured knee and finished with just 2,612 passing yards, 416 rushing yards, and 19 total touchdowns.

2003 – Marshall Faulk

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A Hall of Fame running back, Faulk was a fantasy machine before he donned the 2003 cover. An injured ankle cost him two contests in 2002, and he failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 1996. Faulk would never again reach the 1,000-yard mark, and his numbers declined in each season after his appearance on the Madden cover.

2004 – Michael Vick

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Even a versatile, explosive athlete such as Vick couldn't elude the Madden curse, as he sustained a broken right fibula in a preseason game against the Ravens and was forced to miss the first 11 contests of the regular season. He was able to make five starts, but Vick finished with just 585 passing yards, 255 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

2005 – Ray Lewis

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Lewis was the first defensive athlete to be featured on the cover, but he fell victim to the curse, nonetheless. The All-Pro linebacker missed one start in 2004 due to a broken wrist and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career (he had a career-best six interceptions in 2003). He also missed 10 starts due to injuries in 2005.

2006 – Donovan McNabb

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McNabb led the Eagles to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX and was on the cover of the 2006 Madden game. It would be the start of two injury-plagued campaigns. McNabb sustained a sports hernia during the first week of the 2005 season, but he attempted to play despite the ailment. However, he would bow out after just nine starts. The curse also seemed to strike him in 2006, as McNabb missed six weeks with an injured knee.

2007 – Shaun Alexander

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Alexander had one of the best statistical seasons ever in 2005, as he rushed for 1,880 yards and scored what was a record 28 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, the curse took its toll the following season as he suffered a broken foot in Week 3. He had missed one start in his previous 64 contests. Alexander would miss six starts, and he failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 2000. His career went downhill from there.

2008 – Vince Young

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Young had a tremendous rookie season for the Titans, leading to an appearance on the 2008 Madden cover. He would go on to have a brutal sophomore campaign, throwing nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions while finishing as the QB17 in fantasy leagues. That’s eight spots worse than his rookie year. He also suffered a quadriceps injury that season, which caused him to miss his first-ever game because of an ailment. He would go on to become an NFL backup and was rarely heard from again as a fantasy option.

2009 – Brett Favre

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The "Madden curse" appeared to be over heading into 2008, as a retired Favre graced the cover in a Packers uniform. He would eventually return after a trade to the New York Jets, but his numbers decreased across the board with the Men in Green. That was due in part to a right biceps injury that caused what was his second "retirement."

2010 – Larry Fitzgerald/Troy Polamalu

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This is the first time the Madden cover featured two players. While Fitzgerald did suffer a knee injury, it didn't keep him out of action. He also finished the 2009 season with a career-best 13 touchdowns. However, Polamalu did miss 11 games with an injured knee. The Steelers, winners of Super Bowl XLIII, didn’t make the playoffs without him.

2011 – Drew Brees

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Brees did have a nice season in 2010 from a statistical perspective, throwing for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. But he played almost the entire year with a medial collateral ligament injury. The veteran also threw a career-high 22 interceptions, which could probably be blamed on the fact that he was playing at less than 100 percent. While the impact on Brees' career wasn't very severe, the curse did strike him to some degree.

2012  Peyton Hillis

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Hillis, who told me in an interview that he didn’t believe in the Madden curse, changed his tune after being on the cover. After posting monster totals in 2010, Hillis missed six games due to injuries and experienced statistical drops across the board the following season. Was the cover curse to blame? Well, even Hillis believes it played a part!

2013 – Calvin Johnson

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Johnson, the first wideout to ever appear on the Madden cover by himself, was also the first prominent example of how the curse wasn’t actually a “thing.” He had 1,964 yards, which set a new NFL record, and he set or tied records for 100-yards games. While he had just five touchdowns, Megatron was still the No. 1 wideout in fantasy football.

2014 – Adrian Peterson/Barry Sanders

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Peterson initially earned a spot on the Madden cover after a miraculous return to action eight months after a major knee reconstruction in 2012. However, Barry Sanders ultimately received cover honors for the 25-year anniversary of the franchise. 

As for Peterson, He finished that spectacular 2012 season with 2,097 yards and ranked as the top running back in fantasy football. Despite struggling through a bum foot for most of the 2013 campaign and missing two games in the process, Peterson still rushed for 1,266 yards with 10 touchdowns and finished as the RB11 in fantasy leagues.

2015 – Richard Sherman

Sherman dodged the curse, recording four interceptions and 57 tackles while helping the Seahawks reach Super Bowl XLIX. They would go on to lose to the Patriots, 28-24.

2016 – Odell Beckham Jr.

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Beckham broke on to the fantasy scene as a rookie, posting 91 catches, 1,305 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Those impressive totals earned him an appearance on the 2016 Madden cover. Curse be damned, as OBJ was even better in 2015 en route to a top-5 finish among wideouts based on fantasy points. If Beckham has been cursed during his career, it’s been his move to the Browns. He hasn’t been elite since leaving New York.

2017 – Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski’s put up beastly totals in 2015, posting 72 catches for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. The curse did seem to strike the following season, however, missing the first two games with an injured hamstring while missing a total of eight games. The big man finished with just 540 yards with three touchdowns and wasn’t a top-25 tight end.

2018 – Tom Brady

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Come on folks, did anyone really think the Madden cover could curse the G.O.A.T.? he had great success in 2017, throwing for more than 4,500 yards with 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. That was good enough to finish as the QB3 based on fantasy points. Brady’s Patriots did lose to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, but it wasn’t his fault. Brady threw for a record 505 yards and three touchdowns in the exciting 41-33 defeat.

2019 – Antonio Brown

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Brown was in the prime of his career when he was on the cover and was considered the top wideout in fantasy football. The appearance didn’t slow him down, as Brown put up 104 catches, 1,297 yards and a career-best 15 touchdowns in 2018. Things did go a bit sideways afterwards, however, as he had reported issues with Ben Roethlisberger and was traded to the Raiders. He never played a down for Oakland, however, and several off-field incidents have limited Brown to just nine games since he was on the cover.

2020 – Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes had the best fantasy season of all-time among quarterbacks in 2018, putting up 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. He wasn’t nearly as good after being on the Madden cover, however, missing two games with an injured knee and throwing for 1,066 fewer yards and 24 fewer touchdowns. Of course, Mahomes did go on to lead the Chiefs to a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, so it wasn’t all bad.

2021 – Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson is on the cover of Madden NFL 21

Jackson was on pace to finish with more fantasy points than Mahomes in 2019, but he was held out of the regular-season finale. In all, he had 3,127 passing yards, another 1,206 rushing yards, and 43 total touchdowns (seven rushing). While Jackson wasn’t what you would call a “bust” last season, he still saw notable declines in passing yards and touchdown passes while finishing nine spots lower among quarterbacks based on fantasy points. Had he not turned things around from a statistical perspective down the stretch, we might be talking about Jackson having been the later Madden cover victim.


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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!