The Madden Curse: A Numerical Analysis

by George on August 5, 2009

Twas the week before Madden
And all across the net
Coverboys were nervous
And couldn’t help but fret

Madden 10 hits store shelves next week, and few people can talk about the release of Madden without talking about a phenomenon surrounding its cover athletes.

The cover athletes have been hot topics every year since perception is that they tended to have off years and fall victims to the Madden Curse. But how poorly do they really do? Is the curse even real? The numbers will surely tell all…

To preface, the cover athletes (outside of Ray Lewis, who I omitted for the sake of homogeneous data) have all been either running backs or quarterbacks, so I will be looking at Rushing Yards/Rushing TDs/Fumbles and Passing Yards/Passing TDs/INTs respectively. While this analysis is far from perfect, it more or less cuts right to the chase.

Madden NFL 2001 – Eddie George

Madden NFL 2001 Eddie George cover curse

My what happy times these were. George was the first solo cover athlete and there was still no talk of any such curse. With that, it took an extra year for the effect to kick in. In his cover year, George rushed for a career best 1509 yards, 14 TDs, and 5 fumbles. But the curse then struck in 2001 to the tune of a drop-off to 939 yds, 5 TDs, 8 fumbles.

Bottom Line: -38% yds, -65% TDs, +60% fumbles

Madden NFL 2002 – Daunte Culpepper

Madden NFL 2002 Daunte Culpepper cover curse

Daunte was proclaimed the next big thing after a rookie year singing to the tune of 3937 passing yds, 33 TDs, and 16 INTs. Sophomore slump or cover jinx? He slipped to 2612 yds, 14 TDs, 13 INTs in his cover year.

Bottom Line: -33% yds, -58% TDs, -19% INTs

Madden NFL 2003 – Marshall Faulk

Madden NFL 2003 Marshall Faulk cover curse

Marshall had a string of amazing years, culminating with 1382 yds, 12 TDs, and 3 fumbles in 2001. And then came 2002, his cover year, and the beginning of the end. Faulk dropped off to 953 yds, 8 TDs, and 4 fumbles. This would be an even more startling decline if his receiving TDs were taken into account. But alas, I’m too lazy.

Bottom Line: -31% yds, -33% TDs, +33% fumbles

Madden NFL 2004 – Michael Vick

Madden NFL 2004 Michael Vick cover curse

This may have been what REALLY ignited the Madden Curse fire. 4 days after the release of Madden 2004, Vick broke his leg during a preseason game and only played 5 games at season’s end. The season prior, Vick racked up 2936 yds, 16 TDs (plus 8 rushing TDs, of course), and 8 INTs. Vick never quite reached those statistical achievements again. His first full year after the injury, he came back with 2313 yds, 14 TDs, and 13 INTs (not to mention only 3 rushing TDs).

Bottom Line: -21% yds, -13% TDs, +63% INTs

Madden NFL 2006 – Donovan McNabb

Madden NFL 2006 Donovan McNabb cover curse

McNabb had a career year in 2004, amassing 3875 yds, 31 TDs, and 8 INTs. However, he too fell victim to the curse and played 6 fewer games due to season-ending injury. Either way, his final line of 2507 yds, 16 TDs, and 9 INTs wasn’t going to surpass his previous season.

Bottom Line: -35% yds, -48% TDs, +13% INTs

Madden NFL 2007 – Shaun Alexander

Madden NFL 2007 Shaun Alexander cover curse

The 2005 season was legendary for Alexander. It was one in which he earned league MVP honors, broke records, and led his team to the Super Bowl. Along the way, he victimized NFL defenses with 1880 yds, 27 TDs, and 5 fumbles. During the following year, he was plagued by a foot injury sustained in Week 3 that caused him to miss several starts and never regain top form. He went for 896 yds, 7 TDs, and 6 fumbles.

Bottom Line: -52% yds, -74% TDs, +20% fumbles

Madden NFL 2008 – Vince Young

Madden NFL 2008 Vince Young cover curse

Vince Young was highly touted coming out of college, and fared well enough in his first NFL season, netting 2199 yds, 12 TDs, and 13 INTs. Still huffing those college fumes, EA Sports must have figured he would improve on this and gave him the cover in 2007. Vince responded with 2546 yds, 9 TDs, and 17 INTs. Looks like they may have been singing his praises a little too soon.

Bottom Line: +16% yds, -25% TDs, +31% INTs

Madden NFL 2009 – Brett Favre

Madden NFL 2009 Brett Favre cover curse

When Favre was named the cover athlete for Madden 09, everyone thought the curse was over. After all, how could it affect a retired player? But just as everyone was forgetting about the curse, Favre goes ahead and unretires and links up with the New York Jets. Despite his advanced age, Favre still consistently performed at a high level, putting up 4155 yds, 28 TDs, and 15 INTs in 2007. As quarterback of the Jets, he only managed 3472 yds, 22 TDs, and 22 INTs. Many thought to just chalk it up to learning a new offense and adjusting to a new team. Or was it the curse?

Bottom Line: -16% yds, -21% TDs, +47% INTs


The overall bottom line supports the argument for existence of the curse. On average, each cover athlete took a dip of -26% in respective yardage, -42% in respective TDs, and had their negative stats (INTs and fumbles) go +31%.

So what will that mean for this year’s crop of cover talent?


Not only are there two athletes this year, but one is a defensive player (Troy Polamalu) and the other is a receiver (Larry Fitzgerald). Perhaps EA Sports did their own research similar to mine and is mixing it up to prevent tampering with the players. Is the curse officially over?

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  • KneeJerkNBA

    There's an exhibition game between Pitt and Ari in two weeks, right?

    Fitzgerald runs a crossing route over the middle. Polamalu charges in. The full speed head-to-head collision results in the first double-paralysis incident in football history. Both players are done for life before even playing a single official down this season.

    This curse is obviously a very real phenomenon at this point, which begs the question: why don't they just put kickers and coaches on the cover?

  • HRPuffInStuff

    Are you kidding me!

    Ray Lewis got hurt in week six in 2005 season and then couldn't play the rest of the season, if anyone got Madden Cursed it was him!

  • sportstsar

    Hey I'm not saying Ray Lewis wasn't affected, I was just sticking to the same yardage/TD data for QB's and RB's

  • theklep

    I agree with george.. the cover athletes more or less play shittier because they can't reproduce the insane numbers from the year before.

  • xtexas

    I think the real question is why EA is so obsessed with black quarterbacks? Do players have to give approval to appear, and no white quarterbacks wanted to risk the exposure (until Favre, who was supposed to be retired)?

  • lupka

    That was the year after his cover came out. When they talk about the Madden curse its about how it affected them the season directly after the game came out. So, for example, with Favre, even though it was Madden 09, we talk about how it impacted him in the '08 season. So for Ray Lewis, you would have to use data from the '04 season, not '05. In 2004 he was All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, unaffected by the curse. The 2005 season is irrelevant for the sake of analyzing the curse.

  • HRPuffInStuff

    true true, I just guessed he had 20 less tackles and zero picks that year, and he then got injured the next, it really was the beginning of th end for him
    He had 100 tackles on the dot and it was the last time in his career he will do so.

    It is also the only time in his career he has gone a season without a pick.

  • Name

    there are 3 black QB covers, and 2 white. I'd hardly call that obsessed

  • Name

    polamalu just got hurt… the curse strikes again.

  • Matt

    AHH!!! Polamalu out 3-6 weeks! Madden Curse strikes again!

  • houroc

    Troy is done 3-6 weeks…. one down, one to go

  • Matt

    AHH!!! Polamalu out 3-6 weeks! Madden Curse strikes again!

  • houroc

    Troy is done 3-6 weeks…. one down, one to go

  • Medyumlar

    Troy is done 3-6 weeks…. one down, one to go