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The Madden Curse — It’s for Real

by Paul Franke | University of Michigan

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: April 26, 2012
Paul Franke Paul Franke

“Man, it’s great,” Johnson said in yesterday’s ESPN story. “Just to see yourself on this Madden [cover] and seeing all the guys that have been on Madden? C’mon, man.”

Calvin Johnson is undoubtedly joining great company by being chosen to be on the cover of Madden 2013 — and he has every right to be excited. However, Johnson might want to contain his excitement and get straight back to the weight room because many of the past winners have seen their careers burn out faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. The Madden Curse could make Johnson its next victim — just ask Peyton Hillis, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, or a slew of other former NFL superstars.

Johnson has demonstrated MVP-caliber talent over the past few years, but so did many other players prior to their decline after winning the cover spot for Madden football. Johnson represents a future for a Detroit Lions franchise that is in a full-steam building process that began with his selection in the 2007 draft. The Lions cannot afford such a loss.

Johnson won five rounds of voting and ousted Cam Newton 52 to 48 in the final round to earn his spot on the Madden cover. Newton, although he may be disappointed now, might be counting his blessings a few years from now. Many NFL superstars have found their following seasons doomed by the Madden curse. Since the 2006 cover, only Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees have emerged unscathed. As for the others, hopefully Johnson will not be joining them, or at least that’s what Lions fans are praying for. They would have been wise to vote for Newton to win the Madden cover yesterday and avoid any trace of the Madden Curse in Detroit. Here is a look at the former NFL superstars who have found out the hard way how the Madden Curse just may be more than simple superstition —

1. Donovan McNabb2006 cover

In the midst of a historic career Donovan McNabb found his 2005-2006 NFL Season to be a disastrous one. McNabb missed seven games as a result of an injured groin and was not selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in five years. The Philadelphia Eagles missed the playoffs with a 6-10 record after losing to the Patriots just a year earlier in the Super Bowl and McNabb’s passer rating was his lowest until the 2010 season in Washington.

2. Shaun Alexander — 2007 cover

The Madden Curse for Shaun Alexander marked the end of his career. After a phenomenal 2005-2006 season in which he rushed for 27 touchdowns and was named the NFL MVP, Alexander fractured his foot in the third week of the 2006 season and never returned to MVP form. Up until then, Alexander had not missed a single game during his six-year career. Even in his attempt to return from his foot injury, Alexander could only muster 11 more touchdowns in two years in the NFL. He was then released by the Washington Redskins.

3. Vince Young — 2008 cover

For Vince Young the Madden Curse was merciful enough to hold off for one season in which he directed the Titans to a playoff birth. However, in 2008-2009 the career of Vince Young began a lengthy downhill slide. Due to a sprained ligament in the opening game of the 2008 season (and a phenomenal Kerry Collins), Young did not find his way back into the starter role for the remainder of the season. Even though Young showed signs of hope following Collins’s departure, he is now riding the bench for the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL has seen very little of the Vince it hoped for after seeing him run in the winning touchdown in the final seconds against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

4. Troy Polamalu — 2010 cover

Until the 2009 season Polamalu had appeared in double-digit games in all of his six seasons as a pro. However, less than half way through the Steelers’ 2009 season opener Polamalu sprained his MCL, causing him to miss four and a half games. A few weeks after his return he reinjured his MCL and so Polamalu was forced to miss a total of 11 games in 2009, a career high. Also the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to make the playoffs after appearing the Super Bowl just the year before.

5. Peyton Hillis — 2012 cover

After compiling one of the best seasons among running backs in the NFL in 2010, Hillis experienced drastic change in 2011 starting with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss five games. This was the first of several events that led Hillis to imply that the Madden Curse may be real.

“Things didn’t work in my favor this year,” Hillis told ESPN “There’s a few things that happened this year that made me believe in curses. Ain’t no doubt about it.”

In addition to his injury, Hillis found himself in contract negotiation problems and on shaky grounds with teammates. The year before must have seemed like that of a different man to Hillis. And as it stands now, after a few glimpses this past season we have still not seen as to whether Hillis will return to his 2010 form. It will come down to just how hard those Madden ghosts work — and if Hillis is willing to fight against them.

Carolina Panther fans and Cam Newton should consider themselves lucky with how the Madden cover voting turned out yesterday. A slim margin saved them any association with the Madden Curse, that whether you believe or not, has shown to portray future failures more often than successes. Going forward, Detroit can only pray that  Johnson stays healthy as a young Lions team prepares itself to fight for a NFC North division title. Brees and Fitzgerald have overcome the curse — maybe Johnson can do the same.

Paul Franke Paul Franke Paul Franke is a NGJ Contributor and a freshman studying business and economics at the University of Michigan. He's originally from San Diego, California and hopes he can survive his first Michigan winter.

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