On October 6, 1945, a tavern owner by the name of Billy Sianis bought two tickets to game 4 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, one for himself and one for his pet goat, Murphy. Sianis (and his goat) were both rabid Cubs fans. The goat even wore a blanket that said ?We got Detroit's goat?.
Sometime before the game ended, Cubs owner Philip Knight Wrigley demanded that Sianis and his goat be ejected from the stadium due to the goat's objectionable smell. Sianis was angered at this lack of respect and placed a curse on the Cubs organization, the ?Curse of the Billy Goat,? which stated that the Cubs would never again play in the World Series.
The curse has stood for 62 years.
Today's modern athlete is no less superstitious than those that played in Sianis' time. While the superstitions may no longer involve spurned livestock, a good curse can still befall even the best of players. For an example of this, look no further than the Madden Cover Curse.
The Madden Cover Curse states that any player who appears on the cover of a Madden NFL Football game will be cursed with a poor season or a serious injury. While no one person can be specifically cited as placing the bad voodoo on the Madden cover, some place the blame at the feet of the NFL's greatest running back: Barry Sanders.
Before the release of Madden NFL 2000, John Madden appeared on the cover alone. Starting with the 2000 release however, EA chose to add a small graphic of Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders next to Madden's yearly pose. Sanders, however, had other plans. On July 29th, on the cusp of becoming the all-time rushing yards leader, he retired from football. Years later, Sanders would admit that the reason for his sudden retirement was because he could no longer handle the culture of losing that had enveloped the Lions' organization. He said it robbed him of his ?competitive spirit.? Consequently, a ?culture of losing? has followed every Madden cover athlete since that year.
Madden NFL 2001 Cover Athlete Eddie George, RB, Tennessee Titans
The curse did not take effect right away. Eddie George was the first player to appear alone on a Madden cover and in 2000 he recorded career highs in touchdowns and rushing yards. He was also selected to his third Pro Bowl. However, in 2001 he would post career lows in touchdowns and rushing yards and a fumble in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff arguably cost the Titans the game.
Daunte Culpepper has always been a streaky player who has had a problem with interceptions. This statistic was front and center during his curse year of 2001. During the season, Culpepper managed to throw 14 touchdowns, but he also connected with the other team an almost equal number of times with 13 interceptions. His season was ended in the 11th game of the season when he suffered a back injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Madden NFL 2003 Cover Athlete Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams
While Marshall Faulk never missed any games in the 2002 season, an injured ankle took a big bite out of his normally stellar statistics and caused the St. Louis Rams to fall from 14-2 to 7-9. This record caused them to miss the playoffs a year after losing the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots.
After the Curse: Faulk was never able to fully recover from his injuries in the 2002 season and never again rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Madden NFL 2004 Cover Athlete: Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Just days after Madden NFL 2004 was shipped to stores, Michael Vick fractured his leg in a preseason game. The injury was so severe that it caused him to miss the first 11 games of the season, effectively killing any chance the Falcons had of making a second straight appearance in the playoffs.
After the Curse: Vick has had his ups and downs after his curse year, including being named "the most overrated player in the NFL" by the readers of Maxim and Sports Illustrated. However, he has also appeared in two Pro Bowls and regained much of his form from the 2002 season. But it is Vick's off-the-field performance that shows the curse is alive and well for him as he has currently been ordered not to return to the Falcons until a federal investigation into allegations of running a dog fighting ring are resolved. His trial is set for November 26th, but many sportscasters are speculating that Vick will be suspended for the entire 2007 season any day now.
Madden NFL 2005 Cover Athlete: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
The first defensive player to be selected for a Madden cover, it could be said that Lewis' cursed season happened in the early part of 2000 when he was on trial for murder. Although acquitted, these charges damaged Lewis' reputation in the eyes of some fans. However, these fans would be in the minority, as his continued popularity led to his selection as the Madden cover athlete for Madden NFL 2005.
Defensive players are more prone to sudden shifts in their statistics from year to year and Lewis was no exception in his cursed year. In 2004 he did not collect a single interception and his Ravens missed the playoffs after losing in the Wild Card round the year before. Lewis' bad luck continued into the 2005 season as a hamstring injury ended his season in game six.
Madden NFL 06 Cover Athlete: Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Before landing on the cover of Madden NFL 06, Donovan McNabb had led the Eagles to five straight playoff appearances. But in addition to being cursed, McNabb took it one step further and openly flaunted the curse in an ESPN interview: "It might be a trend, but I don't believe in the curse at all. I'm happy I'm on the cover." Whether you believe or not, the one thing you do not do is tempt fate because fate will always win.
And so it goes for Donovan McNabb. In the 2005 season opener, McNabb suffered a sports hernia that would eventually require surgery. He decided to hold off on the surgery until a groin injury in the tenth game of the year ended his season.
After the Curse: McNabb rebounded nicely in the 2006 season, leading the league in touchdown passes and the conference in passing yards? until game ten that is. In the tenth game of the season McNabb tore his ACL and was again sidelined for the rest of the year.
With McNabb's woes the year before a matter of record, 2007's cover athlete, Shaun Alexander, once again chose to flaunt the curse in an interview. Speaking to The Seattle Times, the running back said "I don't believe in curses."
Game three would make a believer out of Alexander as a broken foot against the New York Giants would cause him to miss six starts and cause his total rushing yardage to fall below 1,000 yards in a season for the first time since his rookie season.
The Madden Cover Anti-Curse? If appearing on the cover of a Madden NFL Football game is enough to curse a player into a poor season, it's remarkable how appearing on a non-Madden game will improve a player's statistics. Perhaps this is the real reason EA pursued the exclusive rights to the NFL license. They know full well that the curse and the anti-curse are real and they don't want those other games around highlighting the reality of the curse.
Don't believe me? Here are some examples:
Marshall Faulk appeared on the cover of NFL GameDay 2001 and was the NFL MVP, the Offensive Player of the Year and set an NFL record of 26 total touchdowns in a season.
Tom Brady appeared on the cover of NFL GameDay 2003 and led the league in touchdown passes. The next two seasons would see Brady leading the New England Patriots to two Super Bowl victories and Brady himself would notch an MVP award for Super Bowl XXXVIII.
LaDainian Tomlinson appeared on the cover of NFL GameDay 2004 and set career highs in yards per carry, receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns and nearly matched his career high in rushing yards. He also threw a 21 yard touchdown pass, a first in his career.
Terrell Owens appeared on the cover of ESPN NFL 2K5 and led the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX. While his 122 receiving yards could not help the Eagles win the game, it is quite a feat when playing on an injured leg.
Of course, this is just speculation on my part, the person who should be most worried about the curse (or an anti-curse) is the man who will appear on Madden NFL 08:
In a way, it could be said that Madden NFL 08 marks a turning point for the curse. Vince Young is, like Madden NFL 2001's Eddie George before him, another rising star for the Tennessee Titans. And Barry Sanders is back in the mix as well, sharing the cover athlete spotlight with Jerry Rice and John Elway on 2K Games' All-Pro Football 2K8. Could this be the catalyst that breaks the curse? Or will Young's humble treatment and respect for the curse on Jimmy Kimmel Live please the football gods? According to Young ?Whatever happens, happens? and if an injury is to befall him, he says ?No, I definitely won't blame the game.?
See Young for yourself on Jimmy Kimmel Live discussing the curse here:
Or will something happen to EA's other choice for the cover, LaDainian Tomlinson? According to a report on CNBC.com, Tomlinson turned down EA's offer of the cover for monetary reasons, not because of a fear of the curse. Will the curse turn on this show of fear and place the fickle finger of fate on Tomlinson? The NFL's ?kickoff weekend? is only three weeks away, I'm sure we'll find out then.