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Calvin Johnson "won" the "Madden" cover-boy vote. Soon he will slip on a banana peel, stumble into wet paint, crash through a huge pane of glass being carried across the street by stuntmen and then be hit by an asteroid.
—Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN.com
Akin to the Curse of the Bambino and other notable sports curses. The superstition states that, when an NFL player appears on the cover of the latest edition of the Madden NFL series, either a) he and/or his team will not be up to snuff in the upcoming NFL season, or b) will suffer a major injury and be sidelined for much of the year.
NFL players who have met with misfortune after being on the Madden cover include:
- Eddie George, Tennessee Titans running back (2001 cover): his yards-per-carry average shot right down after he appeared.
- Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings quarterback (2002 cover): Threw 23 interceptions the year he appeared; though he seemed to be back on track in 2004, he blew out his knees the next year, from which he never really recovered. After bouncing around the league, he ended up on the Detroit Lions in 2008 (a season in which they became the first team ever to go 0-16) and then retired.
- Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams running back (2003 cover / 2012 Special Edition cover): after several awesome seasons, he never registered another 1,000-yard rushing season.
- Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback (2004 cover): he broke his leg in a preseason game a day before Madden's release and the Falcons went 5-11. Three years later, he seemed to be returning to form... and then got a two-year prison sentence for dogfighting.
- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens linebacker (2005 cover): after several seasons with at least one interception, he recorded zero the year of his appearance. However, unlike most examples on this page, he very much returned to form down the line.
- Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback (2006 cover): he missed most of that season with an injury.
- Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks running back (2007 cover): After winning Most Valuable Player the year before, he got injured and had a very down year. His career was over due to lack of production a season later.
- Vince Young, Tennessee Titans quarterback (2008 cover): After a Rookie of the Year season, he regressed substantially, culminating in his being benched for all but the first game of the 2008 season. He was released by the Titans after the 2010 season despite a winning professional record.
- Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers/New York Jets/Minnesota Vikings quarterback (2009 cover): Involved in a very public war of words with Green Bay Packers management and eventually traded to the New York Jets. The curse appeared to have been weakening, since he started out of the gate barnstorming like old times. But a late season fall, losing 4 of 5, (which he admitted to have tried to play through an injury, meaning the curse had struck) kept the Jets out of the playoffs. The following year (now free of the curse), he signed with the Vikings, bitter rivals of his old team, whom he took all the way to the NFC Championship match. They lost in large part because of a disastrously bad interception by Favre, leading fans to wonder if the curse was just biding its time.
- Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers safety and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver (2010 cover): Polamalu was injured in his team's season opener and was out for four weeks, but after he came back he was injured again against the Bengals in week 10. The Steelers as a whole, also had problems over the year. Meanwhile, the Cardinals weren't hit very hard in comparison, as they won their division and Fitzgerald had the highest touchdown total of his career, which indicates the Madden Curse may be a case of There Can Be Only One.
- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (2011 cover): The Saints experienced a somewhat shaky start to the season (including a near loss to the 49ers) before losing star running back Reggie Bush after he broke his leg muffing a punt. Brees himself had a respectable year, but during the wild card round of the playoffs, the Saints ended up losing to the underdog Seattle Seahawks, who came into the game as the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record in 28 years, going 7-9 during the regular season compared to the Saints' 11-5. He also threw a career high 22 interceptions during the 2010 Season, and he played six games with an MCL Sprain according to one of his teammates.
- Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns (2012 cover): The Madden 2012 cover athlete was determined by a March Madness-style bracket tournament containing one player from every team, with fans voting for players in one-on-one matchups. This culminated in the Madden 2012 cover being graced by Hillis, making him only the second Madden cover boy whose team didn't make the playoffs the previous season (the first was Vince Young, who'd just won the Rookie of the Year award). A few people have theorized that Hillis gained a lot of his votes from people who didn't want the guy on their team to be on the cover, due to the Curse being well known. And the first indication of the curse is? Hillis sat out the Browns' week 3 game with strep throat. He also voluntarily sat out week 5. He also Took a Level In Jerkass.
- Calvin Johnson Jr., Detroit Lions (2013 cover): Determined via tournament again, the 2013 season has yet to occur so time will tell if and how the curse will strike.
Related to this curse are the "Campbell's Chunky Soup" curse, which claims that any NFL athlete featured in a commercial for said soup is bound for misfortune, and the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, which doesn't confine itself to football -- when Colorado Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis made the cover when the team was heading towards the World Series, fans wasted no time in their backlash and accused SI of being in cahoots with the Rockies' would-be World Series opponent, the Boston Red Sox. Sure enough, the Rox lost and the Sox won.
This trope exists largely because of the regression fallacy; the athletes involved are chosen specifically because of how far above the rest they are, which gives them nowhere to go but down. The Snopes.com Urban Legends website has more information on both the Madden Curse and the "Campbell's Chunky Soup" curse.