From last year...
Will the Madden NFL 2004 cover ruin Michael Vick’s career?
Next month, Electronic Arts will release the 14th version of the most successful sports video game in history. Madden NFL 2004 will be hitting the shelves, and this year the cover will feature all-world quarterback Michael Vick. "What an honor to be on the cover of the best NFL franchise, Madden NFL 2004," Vick said at a recent press conference. "This is the game that everyone wants to be associated with at some point in their NFL career." Not so fast.
Apparently Vick isn’t aware of the “Madden Curse.” This is the fourth year that EA Sports has opted to put a promising young athlete on the Madden cover (rather than pudgy broadcaster and namesake John Madden, who was pictured on all previous covers). Each of the featured players has suffered a sharp decline soon after appearing on the cover of the game.
Vick would appear to be the exception to the rule. He’s been touted as a “can’t-miss” prospect for years, and has yet to disappoint. While he was a freshman at Virginia Tech, he led the Hokies to the national championship game and nearly won them a title by single-handedly shredding an incredible Florida State defense. He left for the NFL after his sophomore season, took time to develop during his rookie campaign with the Atlanta Falcons, and became a Pro-Bowler last year (his first as a starter). He’s got the strongest arm of any quarterback, and he may be the fastest player in the NFL. All this, and he still may not be safe. You think Sports Illustrated has the most feared cover in sports? Let’s have a look at the three previous players who have fallen victim to the Madden Curse:
Last season, perennial record-breaker Marshall Faulk was the Madden cover boy. He was entering his 10th season at the age of 29, and was already considered a lock for the Hall of Fame. His St. Louis Rams had made it to at least the NFC Championship each of the previous three years, and Marshall was coming off his seventh 1,000 yard season. He’d scored 47 touchdowns in 2000/2001, and had recorded four straight 80-catch years as a running back. But the Madden Curse touches even the untouchable. The Rams came into the season as Super Bowl favorites, but started an unthinkable 0-5. Faulk, considered an iron man during his career, fell to injuries and missed six games. He ended the season with his lowest rushing total in seven seasons, his lowest catch total in four, the lowest yards-per-catch of his career, and half as many touchdowns as the season before. The Rams were out of the playoff race faster than the Carolina Panthers.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper had his picture on the cover of Madden 2002. He was coming off a breakthrough year, which saw him throw for nearly 4,000 yards, 33 touchdowns, and only 16 interceptions (good for a 98.0 quarterback rating). He also rushed for seven more TDs, and led Minnesota to the NFC Championship game against the Giants. It was his first season as a starter, and he was already dominating the Viking record book. But it didn’t last long, thanks to EA Sports. Over the course of the past two seasons, Daunte has compiled totals of 32 touchdowns and 43 interceptions as the Vikings have put together an ugly 11-21 record.
The first to feel the wrath of the Madden Curse was Tennessee running back Eddie George. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the Titans the previous year, the former Heisman Trophy winner’s career was looking as promising as ever. However, his yards-per-carry took a nosedive each of the next two years, as injuries slowed George. He acquired the label of a “soft running back” and was accused of not hitting the hole hard. To his credit, he didn’t miss a game during the next three seasons, but he was obviously not the same running back. His receptions, receiving yards, and yards-per-catch have all continually fallen over the past three years, and he hasn’t had a single carry of over 35 yards.
Let’s hope the curse stops here. I’m looking forward to the many highlights Vick is capable of providing over the next fifteen years, and I’m very interested to see how he ranks among the game’s best at the end of his career. He’s the most electric player in the game, and if all is fair (or unfair, however you look at it), this year he should be the first quarterback in Madden history with a 95+ speed rating. A rating of 99 would be accurate, but for competitive purposes they won’t allow it. So it looks like the Madden programmers are the only people who can slow him down in video games… and the Madden cover is the only thing that can stop him in real life. Well, besides the Tampa Bay defense.