The Madden Curse is a supposed curse where an athlete that appears on the cover art of a Madden video game will experience a decline in performance in the following season.
Prior to 1998, every annual installment primarily featured John Madden on its cover. Players who have appeared on the cover in subsequent years have generally failed to reproduce their success of the previous years, for a variety of reasons. Players such as Marshall Faulk, Peyton Hillis and Vince Young all have suffered injuries in their season appearing on the cover. These performances and injuries resulted in speculation of a curse. The "Madden Curse" has evolved into a much-reported phenomenon, with several news and sports media outlets referring to it as a phenomenon on par with the fabled Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
Daunte Culpepper (2002)
Former Minnesota Vikings star quarterback Daunte Culpepper appeared on the Madden NFL 2002 cover after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns while rushing for 470 yards and 7 more scores in the 2000 season. However, Culpepper struggled with turnovers in the first 11 games of the 2001 season, throwing 13 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes. A back injury ended his season in the 11th game.
Michael Vick (2004)
Five days after Madden NFL 2004 was released, which featured Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on the cover, he was injured during a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, suffering a fractured right fibula. Vick played in only the last 5 regular season games, finishing with just 585 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. The Atlanta Falcons missed the playoffs and were already out of contention by the time Vick returned from his injury. The Falcons finished the season with a record of 5-11, a drop from their 9-6-1 record the season prior.
Shaun Alexander (2007)
Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 07, had one of the best statistical seasons ever in the 2005 season, as he rushed for 1,880 yards and scored what was a record 28 total touchdowns (27 rushing). Alexander, who had missed one start in his previous 64 contests, fractured the 4th metatarsal in his foot after he was on the cover. He missed six starts and failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 2000. He would never rush for 1,000 yards again and every year the stats would drop lower and lower until his retirement. Commenting on his regression, Alexander said "Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?"
Troy Polamalu (2010)
On the opening of the 2009-2010 season against the Tennessee Titans, Troy Polamalu suffered a sprained MCL. He was out, until he returned to play against the Bengals. He hurt his MCL again, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
Peyton Hillis (2012)
Peyton Hillis had a break out year for the Browns in 2011, running for 1,117 yards and 11 touchdowns. In honor of his break out year he was selected for the Madden cover. In 2012 he played in only 10 games and started only 9. Missing time with hamstring injurys, strep throat, and a sprained hip. He finished the year with a dismall 3 touchdowns and 577 rushing yards, less than half what he put up in 2012.
Rob Gronkowski (2017)
In the 2016 season, Gronkowski battled a hamstring injury with limited to no snaps for the first four weeks. Things only got worse as the season progressed. Gronkowski took a big hit from Seattle safety Earl Thomas III and it sent him out of the game. Gronkowski missed the next game and played very briefly in week 12 against the Jets before being pulled from the game due to injury. He never made it back in. Gronkowski had back surgery the following week and was placed on IR to end his season. However, despite having his season cut short by injury, the Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl LI, making Gronkowski the first Madden cover athlete to win a Super Bowl the year he appeared on the cover.
Larry Fitzgerald (2010)
In contrast to Troy Polamalu, the other player on the Madden NFL 10 cover, Fitzgerald played in all 16 regular season games in 2009. He caught a league high 13 touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl (which Fitzgerald didn't play in because of a rib injury).
Calvin Johnson (2013)
Johnson followed up his 2011 All-Pro season where he caught for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns with 1,964 receiving yards and another All-Pro selection. However, he only caught 5 touchdown passes that season and the Lions went 4-12. Johnson later admitted that he played the season with broken fingers.
Tom Brady (2018)
Tom Brady became the oldest player to be named MVP after passing for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns as he led the Patriots to a 13-3 record and another Super Bowl berth. Despite setting the postseason record for most passing yards in a game, he would lose Super Bowl LII 41-33 to the Eagles.
Patrick Mahomes (2020)
Patrick Mahomes injured his back in Week 7 and was out until Week 10. However, he still had a good season, throwing for 26 touchdowns and 4,031 yards, and guided the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV. He would be named Super Bowl MVP after putting together a fourth quarter comeback and beating the 49ers 31-20.