Prior to 1999, the video game’s namesake – former Oakland Raiders and Fox broadcaster John Madden – was primarily featured on the cover.
In 1999, San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst bestowed the cover.
Since 1999, a number of players have been on the cover and a vast majority have been plagued by injury, legal or performance troubles shortly thereafter.
Here is the list:
• 1999: 49ers’ Hearst: The first known occurrence of the curse, Hearst broke his ankle on the first play from scrimmage in 1999, missed two full seasons and was never the same. Verdict: Cursed
• 2000: Lions’ running back Barry Sanders: Hitting close to home, Sanders abruptly retired from football before training camp, falling short of the NFL career rushing record and sending the Lions into a decade-long tailspin of losing. Verdict: Cursed
• 2001: Titans’ running back Eddie George: George stretched the myth of the curse by turning in a solid season – 939 yards rushing with five touchdowns – but also turning the ball over in the fourth quarter of the 2001 Divisional playoffs vs. the Baltimore Ravens. George bobbled a pass from Steve McNair, which was intercepted by Ray Lewis for a touchdown to seal the game. Verdict: Not cursed.
• 2002: Vikings’ quarterback Daunte Culpepper: After a career year, Culpepper threw 23 interceptions and set the NFL record for most fumbles in a season. Verdict: Cursed
• 2003: Rams’ running back Marshall Faulk: Faulk, a perennial 1,000 yard rusher, never eclipsed that mark after donning the cover and knee injuries limited him to 21 of 32 games during the 2002-03 seasons. Verdict: Cursed
• 2004: Falcons’ quarterback Michael Vick: Vick broke his fibula in a preseason game and years later, the rest of the story plays out like this: Dogfights, jail, comeback. Verdict: Cursed
• 2005: Ravens’ Lewis: Lewis didn’t play a full season, instead hurting his wrist in Week 15. He also didn’t intercept a pass for the first time in his career. Verdict: Not cursed
• 2006: Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb: McNabb suffered a sports hernia in the first game of the season and tore his ACL in Week 11 against the Titans. It was the third time in five years that McNabb was lost for the season with six or more games remaining. Verdict: Not cursed
• 2007: Seahawks’ running back Shaun Alexander: The league’s reigning MVP heading into the season, Alexander injured his foot during training camp and missed six games. Verdict: Cursed
• 2008: Titans’ quarterback Vince Young: Young missed a game, but didn’t sway above or below his statistics from the previous season. Verdict: Not cursed
• 2009: Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre: Or is it Jets’ quarterback Favre? The legendary signal-caller took to the cover with the impression that he was retired but instead, Favre came back with the Jets and was plagued by poor performance and poor judgment in text messaging. Verdict: Cursed
• 2010: Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu: Fitzgerald turned in a rock-solid season a year after Arizona fell in the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh, recording 97 receptions (third-most in his career) and 13 touchdowns (career-high). Meanwhile, Polamalu sprained his knee in the season opener and battled injuries the rest of the way. Verdict: Half-cursed
• 2011: Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees: Brees threw twice as many interceptions as the season before and his quarterback rating dropped nearly 20 points as the Saints lost in the first round of the playoffs. Still, he played in all 16 games and made the Pro Bowl as a reserve. Verdict: Not cursed
• 2012: Browns’ running back Peyton Hillis: After a breakout season in 2011, Hillis couldn’t hold a candle to his previous year’s stats, instead battling a hamstring injury, strep throat and clubhouse concerns with the Browns. As for the curse, Hillis told ESPN.com in December, “There’s a few things that happened this year that made me believe in curses. Ain’t no doubt about it.” Verdict: Cursed
But from our vantage point, there is a doubt about the Madden curse. We doubt you want to see Calvin Johnson prove it wrong. So vote for Cam Newton.