Is the Madden Curse Still Real?

Justin Jefferson Receiver documentary, netflix, Minnesota Vikings
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For years, decades even, the EA Sports Madden NFL video game has been a key benchmark when announcing the presence of a new NFL season. The cover, the gameplay, player ratings… all have become reveal-worthy marketing for EA Sports.

For Madden 25, Justin Jefferson is being floated quite often as the cover athlete. That makes the Madden Curse worth revisiting. Is this something Minnesota Vikings fans should be worried about?

Because sleeping on the Madden Curse would be a mistake. For years, Madden’s cover athlete almost always succumbed to injury or was rendered ineffective for at least one season. This lead to athletes turning it down for superstitious purposes.

History of the Madden Curse

For the first decade (from 1988-2000) of the Madden franchise, the video game’s cover featured John Madden, himself. The first player to make the cover, without John Madden as the main feature, was Eddie George (Titans) in Madden 2001, and the season that followed (1,509 yards, 14 touchdowns) was by far the best of his career. So, no Madden curse for the first cover athlete.

Believe it or not, Minnesota Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper started the Madden curse. He was only the 2nd cover athlete of the Madden franchise, at the time, and the season that followed was a disaster.

Daunte was on the cover of Madden 2002, following a pro-bowl 2000-01 season where, in his first year as Vikings starter. That year, he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, opening eyes around the NFL and earning him his cover on Madden. The next season, however, he played just 11 games, throwing for 2,600 yards, 14 TD and 13 INT.

Minnesota Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper on cover of Madden 2002

From there, the Madden curse got way too real. Marshall Faulk got the cover in 2003, and responded with only the second non 1,000 yard rushing season of his career and first in five years. Three more declining years followed for Faulk, before he retired in 2005.

Michael Vick was picked in 2004 (possibly the best version of Madden in franchise history). He fractured his fibula that preseason and missed the Falcons’ first 11 games. Ray Lewis got the final Madden with four digits (2005). He played a full season and made the Pro Bowl, but it was one of his least impressive season from a statistics standpoint.

Yes, the Madden Curse was real. Very, very real.

It only got worse from there. At best, it seemed like NFL players were giving up at least one season of their career by gracing the cover of the Madden video game franchise. At worst, they were risking it all.

  • Madden 06 – Donovan McNabb: Missed 7 games with a groin injury, Eagles went 6-10
  • Madden 07 – Shaun Alexander: Fractured his foot and missed six games, never to be the same again
  • Madden 08 – Vince Young: Missed only one game due to injury but threw 9 TD vs 17 INT and was deemed mentally unstable at the end of the season
  • Madden 09 – Brett Favre: Experienced a tumultuous time in New York and suffered a bicep injury.
  • Madden 10 – Larry Fitzgerald & Troy Polamalu: Fitzgerald missed the playoffs with a rib injury and Troy Polamalu played only five games
  • Madden 11 – Drew Brees: Saints lost in the first round of the playoffs as the biggest betting favorite in history.
  • Madden 12 – Peyton Hillis: Never repeated his production and was quickly out of the league.
  • Madden 14 (25) – Adrian Peterson: Substantial performance drop-off and missed all but one game the following season.
  • Madden 16 – Odell Beckham Jr: Suffered a serious leg injury the following year and dealt with image issues in 2016.
  • Madden 17 – Rob Gronkowski: Spent most of the next season injured
  • Madden 19 – Antonio Brown: Had one more good season in Pittsburgh before going off deep end

Related: Vikings WR3 Job is There for the Taking and *Surprise* Jalen Nailor is Nowhere to be Found

As you can see, the Madden curse started to finally be lifted in the mid 2015s. Calvin Johnson had a massive 2,000 yard season after he graced the cover of Madden 13. Richard Sherman had a great season after he was on the cover of Madden 15 and Tom Brady went ballistic after he was the guy on Madden 18.

Should Justin Jefferson worry about the Madden Curse?

It still pops up and bites randomly. Lamar Jackson (Madden 21) stands as the last one to be bitten, though. He made the cover after an MVP 2019 season, and probably put forth the worst season of his career in 2020.

Madden 22 featured Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes together. Madden 23 was an ode to John Madden himself, so he was back on the cover for the first time since Madden 2000. Last year’s choice, Josh Allen, made it through the regular season unharmed and led the Bills to a 1st place finish in the AFC East division.

As you can see, it has been a bit since the Madden Curse has reared its ugly head. If there was a curse that bit Allen, (though Stefon Diggs did force his way out after the season).

Related: Stefon Diggs Remains the Most Predictable Diva

While superstars like Justin Jefferson are always wise to incorporate marketing opportunities driven by their talent while they are present, something like the Madden Curse may draw pause. As we can see in recent seasons, though, there is less and less correlation between Madden covers and terrible seasons.

As the best wide receiver in football, and now the most highly-paid non-quarterback, hopefully we see Jefferson cash in again, if EA Sports did come calling. We will know this week, as the Madden 25 cover reveal is set for June 11.

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