Professional athletes are typically known to be a superstitious breed. In hockey it’s bad luck to say the word “shutout” aloud. In baseball, many players (especially pitchers) will avoid stepping on any of the baselines in order not to jinx their play. Even basketball great Michael Jordan made a habit of wearing his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform every game for good luck. If pressed, any professional athlete will surely say that hard work and ability are the most important aspects of success — just don’t ask them to give up their charm or commit any bad-luck faux pas. In games where one inch here or there could make a world’s worth of difference, all the talent and all the hard work can still use just a little positive mojo. Perhaps Troy Polamalu is questioning his own mojo right now.
Polamalu, an All-Pro safety for the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, was injured in the first half of the first game of the NFL season this month. The Steelers star will be sidelined, as of Sept. 11, for approximately three to six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL). Ordinarily, news of this type would pass unquestioned, uncommented on, and by some unnoticed. There is one difference between Polamalu and all other NFLers this year: he is on the cover of the new Madden football game. For those of you unaware of the Madden Curse, for years now football fans have witnessed a myriad of negative or unfortunate occurrences befall the athlete fortunate enough (or in this case unfortunate enough) to appear on the cover of a new Madden video game.
In 2002 Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper graced the cover of the new Madden game only to see his touchdown numbers fall and his interceptions rise. Culpepper also missed the last four games of the regular season due to injury and his team recorded one of their worst seasons in almost 20 years.
In 2003 Marshal Faulk appeared on the cover for a year in which the star running back failed to pass the 1,000-yard rushing mark, competing in what would become one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. Speculation spread that Faulk was hampered all season by numerous lingering injuries.
In 2004 the distinction of being named Madden cover athlete was given to none other than Atlanta’s Michael Vick. After posting all-star numbers the year before, Vick broke his leg during a preseason game and remained sidelined for the majority of the season. Years later Vick was found guilty of . . . well, you know.
In 2005 Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was the Madden cover boy. He had a decent season. Yay!
In 2006 quarterback Donovan McNabb scored the cover of the new Madden game, suffered a hernia early in the season, and with five games left on the schedule took himself off the roster, electing to undergo surgery to repair his injuries. Because McNabb was playing injured for the majority of his games his numbers dropped significantly and so did his team’s winning record.
In 2007 running back Shaun Alexander appeared on the cover of Madden’s annual football simulator. That year Alexander also broke his foot and was forced to miss nearly half the season. Since his Madden year, Alexander has struggled to reach the level of success he had in years prior.
In 2008 yet another aberration occurred when quarterback Vince Young was chosen for the Madden cover and, despite slightly worse numbers, remained healthy for most of the regular season. Way to go, Vince.
In 2009 the folks at Madden were celebrating their 20th year in the video game business by placing retired, future-Hall of Famer, Brett Favre on their cover. In a hilarious switcheroo situation the curse enacted itself on the publishers when, days before the game would hit the shelves, Favre came out of retirement and was traded to the New York Jets. For a full year the Madden cover athlete was wearing the wrong jersey.
Now we’re about a month past the release of the 2010 version of Madden and already one of its cover athletes is having a pretty crummy start to the year. Oh, and did I mention that this year Madden has two cover athletes? Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald both share the dubious distinction. It’s possible that the publishers at Electronic Arts were hedging their bets, hoping at least one of their alumni will have a good year. Of course, it’s also possible that this year will see a double dose of Madden Curse; injuries, statistical catastrophes, and off the field scandals of biblical proportions. This could be the curse’s best year, statistically speaking.
For those doubting the reality or the affects of the curse, well, you’re right. Of course a “curse” doesn’t actually exist but it’s important to remember that we’re talking about professional athletes, some of the most superstitious people on the face of the earth. The fact that anyone even talks about a curse is proof positive that it will affect the way an individual plays the game. It is the intangible X-factor and it’s high time Madden aficionados realize this and insist on putting the big man himself, John Madden, back on the cover of his own video game. What harm could a silly curse do to an elderly, overweight man obsessed with turducken?