The Madden Curse: A Numerical Analysis

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by George on August 5, 2009

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Twas the week before Madden And all across the net Coverboys were nervous And couldn’t help but fret

Madden 10 hits store shelves next week, and few people can talk about the release of Madden without talking about a phenomenon surrounding its cover athletes.

The cover athletes have been hot topics every year since perception is that they tended to have off years and fall victims to the Madden Curse. But how poorly do they really do? Is the curse even real? The numbers will surely tell all…

To preface, the cover athletes (outside of Ray Lewis, who I omitted for the sake of homogeneous data) have all been either running backs or quarterbacks, so I will be looking at Rushing Yards/Rushing TDs/Fumbles and Passing Yards/Passing TDs/INTs respectively. While this analysis is far from perfect, it more or less cuts right to the chase.

My what happy times these were. George was the first solo cover athlete and there was still no talk of any such curse. With that, it took an extra year for the effect to kick in. In his cover year, George rushed for a career best 1509 yards, 14 TDs, and 5 fumbles. But the curse then struck in 2001 to the tune of a drop-off to 939 yds, 5 TDs, 8 fumbles.

Bottom Line: -38% yds, -65% TDs, +60% fumbles

Daunte was proclaimed the next big thing after a rookie year singing to the tune of 3937 passing yds, 33 TDs, and 16 INTs. Sophomore slump or cover jinx? He slipped to 2612 yds, 14 TDs, 13 INTs in his cover year.

Bottom Line: -33% yds, -58% TDs, -19% INTs

Marshall had a string of amazing years, culminating with 1382 yds, 12 TDs, and 3 fumbles in 2001. And then came 2002, his cover year, and the beginning of the end. Faulk dropped off to 953 yds, 8 TDs, and 4 fumbles. This would be an even more startling decline if his receiving TDs were taken into account. But alas, I’m too lazy.

Bottom Line: -31% yds, -33% TDs, +33% fumbles

This may have been what REALLY ignited the Madden Curse fire. 4 days after the release of Madden 2004, Vick broke his leg during a preseason game and only played 5 games at season’s end. The season prior, Vick racked up 2936 yds, 16 TDs (plus 8 rushing TDs, of course), and 8 INTs. Vick never quite reached those statistical achievements again. His first full year after the injury, he came back with 2313 yds, 14 TDs, and 13 INTs (not to mention only 3 rushing TDs).

Bottom Line: -21% yds, -13% TDs, +63% INTs

McNabb had a career year in 2004, amassing 3875 yds, 31 TDs, and 8 INTs. However, he too fell victim to the curse and played 6 fewer games due to season-ending injury. Either way, his final line of 2507 yds, 16 TDs, and 9 INTs wasn’t going to surpass his previous season.

Bottom Line: -35% yds, -48% TDs, +13% INTs

The 2005 season was legendary for Alexander. It was one in which he earned league MVP honors, broke records, and led his team to the Super Bowl. Along the way, he victimized NFL defenses with 1880 yds, 27 TDs, and 5 fumbles. During the following year, he was plagued by a foot injury sustained in Week 3 that caused him to miss several starts and never regain top form. He went for 896 yds, 7 TDs, and 6 fumbles.

Bottom Line: -52% yds, -74% TDs, +20% fumbles

Vince Young was highly touted coming out of college, and fared well enough in his first NFL season, netting 2199 yds, 12 TDs, and 13 INTs. Still huffing those college fumes, EA Sports must have figured he would improve on this and gave him the cover in 2007. Vince responded with 2546 yds, 9 TDs, and 17 INTs. Looks like they may have been singing his praises a little too soon.

Bottom Line: +16% yds, -25% TDs, +31% INTs

When Favre was named the cover athlete for Madden 09, everyone thought the curse was over. After all, how could it affect a retired player? But just as everyone was forgetting about the curse, Favre goes ahead and unretires and links up with the New York Jets. Despite his advanced age, Favre still consistently performed at a high level, putting up 4155 yds, 28 TDs, and 15 INTs in 2007. As quarterback of the Jets, he only managed 3472 yds, 22 TDs, and 22 INTs. Many thought to just chalk it up to learning a new offense and adjusting to a new team. Or was it the curse?

Bottom Line: -16% yds, -21% TDs, +47% INTs

The overall bottom line supports the argument for existence of the curse. On average, each cover athlete took a dip of -26% in respective yardage, -42% in respective TDs, and had their negative stats (INTs and fumbles) go +31%.

So what will that mean for this year’s crop of cover talent?

Unprecedented!

Not only are there two athletes this year, but one is a defensive player (Troy Polamalu) and the other is a receiver (Larry Fitzgerald). Perhaps EA Sports did their own research similar to mine and is mixing it up to prevent tampering with the players. Is the curse officially over?

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