Accepting the cover of this game may have been the worst professional decision Vince Young could have made–well, outside of following Ricky Williams’s “training regimen”.
After a promising rookie season, pundits expected Vince Young to improve upon his initial numbers and lead his team in 2007. They should have known better. Young found himself on the cover of Madden 2008–an “honor” that spells doom no matter who graces the front side of the most famous sports game in the world.
While the Titans did improve record-wise from 2006 to 2007, Vince Young certainly did not. His overall quarterback rating jumped from a paltry 66.7 to a poor 71.1. Making up for this incremental jump in efficiency (thanks to a nearly 11% spike in completion percentage), Young cut his touchdowns from 12 to 9 and increased his interception total from 13 to 17, impressive considering he threw the ball just under 16 times a game. His rushing stats, his most outstanding category, also fell in year two. Young rushed for 157 fewer yards in 2007 and his Yards Per Carry fell 1.5 yards.
All-in-all, 2007 was not too kind to the former Texas star, who single-handedly willed his inferior alma mater to victory over the 33rd NFL franchise, the USC Trojans, in the 2006 BCS Championship game. But, looking at the record of past Madden coverboys, this should come as no surprise. The following excerpt was taken from the Wikipedia page linked above (“spells doom“):
Garrison Hearst (1999)
Garrison Hearst was the first player to ever be featured on a Madden cover, appearing on Madden NFL 99. Hearst’s 1998 season was the best of his career, rushing for 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns. He led the San Francisco 49ers to the playoffs and a wild card win over the Green Bay Packers, but on the first play of the divisional game versus the Atlanta Falcons, he suffered a bad ankle break and his team would go on to lose the game. He did not play again until 2001.
(It is worth noting that there are two versions of the Madden NFL ’99 cover, one with Hearst and the more common one with John Madden.)
Barry Sanders and Dorsey Levens (2000)
Barry Sanders shared the cover with the then-customary picture of John Madden on Madden NFL 2000. However, a week before training session began in 1999, Sanders suddenly retired – ending his career and leaving the Detroit Lions without their star running back of the previous 10 years. Sanders’ part in the curse is debated because he is not pictured alone on the box, and he had willingly retired. Also, unlike other victims of the curse who had various problems in the years they appeared on the cover, Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards in his final season, and was closing in on the all time rushing record then held by Walter Payton.
Eddie George (2001)
Eddie George, then of the Tennessee Titans, who graced the Madden NFL 2001 box, is often said to be the next ‘cursed’ player, even though in the year he was on the cover, he had career highs in yardage and touchdowns. Curse advocates point to the 2001 season following his appearance on the cover, during which he averaged only 3 yards per carry and rushed for career lows of 939 yards and 5 touchdowns due to a nagging toe injury that bothered him the entire season. For the rest of his career, he never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry.
George’s curse can be argued to have started the year he was on the cover because in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game George had a costly fumble that lost the game for Tennessee. He also fumbled 8 times during the 2000 regular season, losing a career high 4 fumbles. In a playoff game against the Ravens, Eddie George bobbled a pass that was intercepted by Ray Lewis who ran it back for a touchdown eventually being the winning score.
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.
Marshall Faulk (2003)
Running back Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams, who was on the Madden NFL 2003 cover, suffered an ankle injury, missing five games. He did amass nearly 1,600 total yards (953 rushing) and 10 touchdowns in limited time in 2002; however, it was a steep decline from his 2,000 yard and 21 touchdown campaign of 2001. He never broke through the 1,000 yards rushing mark for the rest of his career. 2002 was also a dismal year for the Rams as a team as they finished with a 7-9 record, coming off of a strong 14-2 season that led to a Super Bowl appearance the year before.
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.
Ray Lewis (2005)
Madden NFL 2005 featured Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, the first defensive player ever to appear on the cover of a Madden game. It was Lewis’ first season without a single interception, after posting a career-high 6 the previous year, although interceptions are a secondary statistic for linebackers. He recorded 147 tackles in 15 games played. The Baltimore Ravens also failed to make the playoffs that season after winning their division the year before.
Donovan McNabb (2006)
QB Donovan McNabb, who was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 06, led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX with a 13-3 regular season record to face the New England Patriots. He ended 2004 throwing just shy of 4,000 yards and throwing for 31 passing touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. He also rushed for an additional 3 TDs. However, during the 2005-2006 season, in which he was on the Madden cover, McNabb suffered a sports hernia, but elected to play until after the November 14th game with the Dallas Cowboys. During this game, McNabb was knocked down after an interception return by Roy Williams, aggravating the injury. He then elected to have a season-ending surgery that was required to repair the injury. The Eagles season was already lost at that point, with them finally finishing 6-10 and in last place of the NFC East.
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 2005-2006 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. Additionally, his touchdown record from the previous year was broken by LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored 31 touchdowns in 16 games.
Vince Young and Luis Castillo (2008)
Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young, who appeared on the cover of Madden 08, threw 2,456 yards with 9 passing touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the season after his cover appearance. Although the Titans managed to make the playoffs for the first time in Young’s career, he left the final game of the season early with a right quadriceps muscle injury, reinjuring the same muscle that had caused him to miss a start October 21 against the Houston Texans. The Titans’ final game was a wildcard loss to the the San Diego Chargers.
San Diego Chargers DT Luis Castillo appeared on the cover of the first-ever Spanish language version of Madden NFL 08. Castillo, during the 2007 NFL season, suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss 6 games. Likewise, his stats from the season before, where he also only played in ten games, showed a statistical drop in virtually every defensive category.
Marshall Faulk, Ray Lewis, Mike Vick, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Daunte Culpepper…the list goes on. All promising players, all with Pro Bowl talent, all fell to the darkest depths of their careers post cover.
Let’s just hope Tom Brady declines the cover of Madden 2009.