The Madden Cover Curse: What Happened To These 12 Players?

Zinger Key Points
  • The Madden Curse was named after coach and commentator John Madden.
  • The Madden Curse doesn't happen every year, but enough to create the legend of one.

John Madden is one of the most well-known figures in the NFL. He was a coach and an iconic commentator whose likeness has been used in the legendary Electronic Arts Inc. EA video game Madden NFL for almost 33 years.

A little background: Madden was an exceptionally gifted football player. He played both the offensive and defensive lines at California Polytechnic State and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958.

He never played a single NFL down. This is due to a career-ending knee injury sustained in the first training camp session with the Eagles. With his career behind him, he started coaching and he would eventually become the Madden we all know.

Some say Madden's career-ending knee injury was the catalyst for the famed Madden Curse that has plagued 72%, or 16 of the 22 players, who have had the misfortune of being on the cover.

See Also: BOOM! NFL Legend John Madden Lands Cover Of Namesake Video Game Franchise For 2022

What is the Madden Curse? According to Fandom, the Madden Curse is supposedly what happens when an athlete appears as the cover art of a Madden video game: he will experience a decline in performance [injury] in the following season.

Yikes, talk about "Stranger Things!"

Back to the players — and 12 who the curse has touched.

  • Madden NFL 1999
  • Athlete: Garrison Hearst
  • Team: San Fransico 49ers
  • Hearst was the first athlete to don the cover of Madden and the first athlete to be affected by the curse. He suffered a badly fractured left ankle on the first play from scrimmage. The 49ers lost 20-18, and Hearst would miss the next two seasons.



  • Madden NFL 2000
  • Athlete: Barry Sanders
  • Team: Detroit Lions
  • This one is somewhat tricky and has a bit of controversy behind it. Sanders was awarded the cover of the new millennia iteration of Madden, but in a move that shocked the football world, Sanders abruptly retired and did not go on to play NFL football again. EA sports scrambled to award another active player the cover art, which ended up being Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens.
  • After appearing on the cover, the season would turn out to be Dorsey’s last on the Packers' starting roster; Levens was discharged from the team in 2001.



  • Madden NFL 2001
  • Athlete: Eddie George
  • Team: Tennessee Titans
  • What began as a near-record-breaking season for George turned into a career-defining one. George led the Titans to a 13-3 record, but his "luck" ran out when he bobbled a ball late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, resulting in an interception and a touchdown ending the Titans' otherwise successful season.
  • George played football for four more seasons, but his stats fell sharply after his appearance on the cover of Madden NFL.



  • Madden NFL 2002
  • Athlete: Daunte Culpepper
  • Team: Minnesota Vikings
  • Culpepper suffered a knee injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers shortly after being picked as the cover athlete for Madden 2002, and he missed the remainder of the season as a result.
  • Culpepper threw 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions the following season.



  • Madden NFL 2003
  • Athlete: Marshall Faulk
  • Team: St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams)
  • Often referred to as a prodigy, Faulk struggled with yards per carry in 2002, and it would be the first time he failed to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
  • In the following seasons, his overall yardage continued to drop. Due to knee surgery, he was forced to miss the whole 2006 season and never returned to the league.



  • Madden NFL 2004
  • Athlete: Michael Vick
  • Team: Atlanta Falcons
  • Vick fractured his right fibula during a preseason game just weeks after it was revealed that he would be the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2004. He missed the first 11 games of the season due to the injury.
  • In 2007, Vick pled guilty to his role in a dogfighting ring and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.



  • Madden NFL 2006
  • Athlete: Donovan McNabb
  • Team: Philadelphia Eagles
  • The legendary quarterback's season was cut short by a groin injury, which forced him to spend the rest of the season on the injured reserve list.
  • His next season was shortened due to an injury in week 11 when he tore his ACL and meniscus in his right knee, followed by a series of underperformance in subsequent seasons until he retired in 2011.



  • Madden NFL 2007
  • Athlete: Shaun Alexander
  • Team: Seattle Seahawks
  • Alexander's 2006 season was cut short by a fractured foot in the third week, mere months after being selected as the Madden NFL cover athlete. His 2007 season was marred by a myriad of injuries as well.
  • In a 2007 interview, he addressed the Madden Curse, saying, "Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or simply hurt?"



  • Madden NFL 2008
  • Athlete: Vince Young
  • Team: Tennessee Titans
  • Young had a slow start to the 2007 season, only to injure his quadricep in week six. He would miss the following week’s game — the first time he had ever missed a game due to injury.
  • Young injured himself again in the final game of the season and again in the first game of the next season, earning him the spot as the backup quarterback behind Kerry Collins.



  • Madden NFL 2012
  • Athlete: Peyton Hillis
  • Team: Cleveland Browns
  • Hillis was plagued by contract disputes that led to a contentious Browns locker room, medical afflictions such as strep throat and an injured hamstring that caused him to miss multiple games that season.
  • The Browns let him go at the end of the season and he became a free agent.



  • Madden NFL 2015
  • Athlete: Adrian Peterson
  • Team: Minnesota Vikings
  • Peterson, a talented running back, returned to football after an eight-month recovery from an ACL and MCL tear suffered during the 2011 season.
  • After struggling with a chronic foot injury throughout the first half of the season, Peterson appeared to be cursed. He only participated in 14 games that season, and the team's record slipped to 5-10-1 after he was benched due to the same foot issue in December.



  • Madden NFL 2017
  • Athlete: Rob Gronkowski
  • Team: New England Patriots
  • Plagued with multiple injuries, Gronkowski missed the first two games of the 2016 season. He didn't start until week five, when he had 109 receiving yards against the Cleveland Browns.
  • "Gronk" underwent back surgery in December 2016 and was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. On 25 catches, he finished with 540 receiving yards and three touchdowns.


Photo: Garrison Hearst via YouTube Touchdown screenshot\

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