Aside from the actual start of the football season, this week is many fans favorite precursor. Why you may ask? Well, it is officially fantasy football draft week and also the latest installment of the Madden franchise will be released this coming Tuesday (Aug. 28). Both will guarantee that fans will stay busy for the upcoming months and college students will miss classes due to late night gaming and roster shuffling after an 0-2 start in their leagues.
While one is a video game and the other is essentially fake football, these both go together; but not in a good way. Whenever EA Sports announces the cover boy for Madden, the discussion starts each time if this will be the guy to break the dreaded “Madden Curse.”
Now I know that a video game curse sounds preposterous, but you have to admit that it is ironic how it has played out.
Let’s take a look at the past victims of the jinx:
2000: Barry Sanders – Sanders appeared on the cover and one week before training camp, he unexpectedly retired when he was well on his way to owning the all time rushing title.
2001: Eddie George – George had a great season, but in the playoffs, he fumbled at a crucial point in the playoffs which caused the top-seeded Titans to lose to the Ravens in the first round.
2002: Daunte Culpepper – Mr. Get Your Roll On made the Vikings the show to watch with Randy Moss in past years, but when he graced the cover, Culpepper put up horrible numbers and had season ending surgery after a 4-7 start for the Vikings.
2003: Marshall Faulk – One of the most versatile backs of all time was hampered by an ankle injury all season. After gracing the cover, Faulk never once rushed for 1,000 yards in a season again.
2004: Michael Vick – The day after the game was released, Vick broke his leg in a preseason game against the Ravens. Vick missed 11 games that season and of course, had that dog fighting thing just a couple of years later.
2005: Ray Lewis – For the most part, Ray Lewis enjoyed a good season. He did however, break his wrist and suffered his first season without an interception.
2006: Donovan McNabb – McNabb suffered a hernia injury that forced him to miss seven games and he also missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in five years. How could we forget that ugly, public spat with Terrell Owens.
2007: Shaun Alexander – The defending MVP missed six games with a foot injury and the decline started. It wasn’t soon after that Alexander went to Washington before retiring.
2008: Vince Young – While he led his team to the playoffs, he didn’t put up numbers anywhere near what he did his rookie year. Young threw 17 interceptions to just nine touchdowns and saw his rushing yards diminish by 200. After the season, Young fell out of favor with then coach Jeff Fisher and suffered multiple off the field issues including a rumored suicide attempt. Young is now fighting for a backup spot for the Buffalo Bills after coining the “Dream Team” moniker last year as a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles.
2009: Brett Favre – When one of John Madden’s all time favorite players finally announced he was retiring, they put Favre on the cover as a good gesture. The problem is, Favre decided to return to football (shocker) with the New York Jets. Instantly, EA Sports had to alter the cover of Favre in a Packers uniform to him in a Jets one. Favre started off hot, but struggled at the end of the year causing the Jets to miss the playoffs. Oh yeah, there was also “that” picture message that caused quite a stir.
2010: Troy Polamalu/Larry Fitzgerald – If it were Fitzgerald by himself on the cover, the curse would be broken as he enjoyed another stellar season. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, Polamalu suffered the curse. In their season opening game, Polamalu had his knee rolled up on causing him to miss 11 games that season.
2011: Drew Brees – Brees had a good season, but if you want to look at the big picture, the Seahawks, who were awarded a home playoff game despite having a record under .500, defeated the Saints in the first round putting an end to any hopes of repeating.
2012: Peyton Hillis – Hillis won the first ever fan vote for the Madden cover over Michael Vick. As most things go in Cleveland, this one didn’t go well either. Hillis was in a contract dispute all season with the Browns and failed to even hit the 600-yard mark on the season after being hampered by a nagging injury. Hillis went on record of saying, “There’s a few things that happened this year that made me believe in curses. Ain’t no doubt about it.” Hillis is now playing second fiddle to Jamaal Charles in Kansas City.
Now the question for Madden and fantasy football enthusiasts is – Can Calvin “Megatron” Johnson put an end to the curse? Johnson is one of the most freakishly talented athletes to play football and is the new owner of an eight-year $132 million deal with the Lions. One can’t expect Johnson to duplicate his numbers from a season before, but since he won’t’ do that, it doesn’t mean it will be a curse. In fact, only Larry Fitzgerald has been a consistent top seven finisher in fantasy points the final five years among wide receivers.
In my draft, I pick ninth overall. In the mocks that I have done, Johnson has fallen to me a few times. Half the time, I pulled the trigger and others, I passed on him for Chris Johnson or Matt Forte. While I don’t necessarily think that Johnson will be the cause of the curse, I do think if he suffers it, it will be because of his quarterback Matthew Stafford.
I’m a big Stafford fan and he helped lead my team last year to a fantasy title. The only problem is, he has only played 16 games one time in a season (last year). I fear that Stafford will either regress causing Johnson’s stats to fall or he will suffer an injury to his shoulder that has bothered him in the past. In last night’s pre-season game, Stafford left the game with a left hand injury. While the injury isn’t believed to be serious, it still raises a cause for concern.
Again, I hope I’m wrong and I hope this is the year we can finally stop talking about this nonsense. So if Johnson (or Stafford for that matter) fall in your lap during your draft this week, don’t automatically skip over them. I will however, say proceed with caution.
Photo Credits: ESPN