In 2000, for their upcoming Madden NFL 2001 release, EA Sports made the then-controversial choice to put a specific player on the cover of the game, as opposed to the eponymous John Madden.
Since this fateful decision, there has been a meme surrounding the release of each successive edition of Madden, that of the dreaded “cover curse.”
The idea is that, since the Madden NFL 2001 cover featuring Eddie George, the player featured on the cover would struggle to match his accomplishments from the previous season. Now that Richard Sherman has been named to the cover of Madden NFL 15, I decided to take a look at the results from the previous 14 editions of the game to discern whether or not this is the case.
Madden NFL 2001 – Eddie George
In 1999, Eddie George rushed 320 times for 1304 yards (4.1 ypc) and 9 touchdowns while starting all 16 games for the Titans.
In 2000, after being named to the Madden cover, George rushed 403 times for 1509 yards (3.7 avg) and 14 touchdowns in 16 starts for the Titans. He was named to the Pro Bowl and to his only All-Pro selection in this season. The Titans finished 13-3 but lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.
After that, George’s career production was spotty, though he started all 16 games for the Titans for the next 3 seasons before leaving for the Cowboys, where he played one season before retiring. Even though George’s production in the season he was on the cover of Madden NFL did not drop off from the prior year, George had a middling career overall, compared to today’s standards. He was a career 3.6 ypc runner who seemed to get by more on volume and longevity than any one breakout season.
Madden NFL 2002 – Daunte Culpepper
EA Sports rewarded Culpepper’s nearly 4000 yard, 33 TD second season with the cover of Madden NFL 2002 prior to the 2001 season.
In 2001, Culpepper started only 11 games, passing for 2612 yards, 14 TDs and 13 INTs. This would seem to be a prime candidate for the Madden curse, but not so fast.
Culpepper’s completion percentage went up while his interception rate (the number of interceptions per pass thrown) was at about the same level as his breakout campaign. What changed? Two things: sacks and his touchdown rate (number of TD passes per pass thrown). Culpepper was sacked 34 times in 16 games in 200o, or an average of 2.13 per game. In 2001, Culpepper was sacked 33 times in 11 games, or 3 per game. This undoubtedly led to his injury, but it also stands to reason that with the increased pressure he was forced into more desperation passes.
Additionally, his 7.1% TD rate in 2000 was not likely to be repeated. If Culpepper threw the ball as much as Peyton Manning did in 2013, he would have thrown 47 TDs at that rate. It’s an elite number for a player who did not prove himself to be elite for the rest of his career, though he had his moments.
The actual end of Culpepper’s career came with the Dolphins, with whom he only started 4 games after signing a big contract with them before the 2006 season, throwing 2 TDs and 3 INTs. He won only 3 of his final 20 career starts after signing with the Dolphins.