Numerous records have been broken this year in the NFL, but only one can stand out as the most impressive of the season. Although Adrian Peterson vying for Eric Dickerson’s rushing yards in a season record would be impressive if he beats it, I still claim Calvin Johnson’s feat is even more impressive. No, I’m not talking about the Jerry Rice single-season receiving yards record that Megatron is about to shatter (as he’s already passed it last game). I’m talking about the running body count that he has overcome thanks to the Madden Cover Curse.
Let’s run down the line of each athlete’s unfortunate injury/mishap per Madden Cover starting from the beginning. Prior to 1999, every annual installment of the Madden NFL game had Coach John Madden on the cover. Since then, EA (Electronic Arts) decided to select one of the top players of that year to place on the cover.
Contrary to popular belief, the curse itself isn’t limited to injuries. Rather, the Madden Curse hits a player by having him experience a huge decline in performance on the field which may be caused by an injury. The curse then begins with Garrison Hearst who broke his ankle and was out two seasons after his 1999 cover. He was never the same again.
Barry Sanders was the 2000 cover, and although he wasn’t technically injured, he abruptly retired, surprising everyone including the Detroit Lions, thus ending his career. Dorsey Levens appeared on the PAL version of the game and due to his poor performance he was eventually released by the Packers.
Eddie George appeared on the 2001 cover and was blamed (in part because of the bobbled catch that was intercepted by Ray Lewis) for their loss in the playoffs. Afterwards, George never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry for the rest of his NFL career.
Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, and Ray Lewis were the cover athletes from 2002-2005 (in that order) and all had failing seasons the year they were the cover athlete. Eventually Culpepper blow out both knees, Faulk underwent reconstructive knee surgery, Vick broke his fibula, and Lewis had a wrist injury, thus continuing the Madden Curse.
More injuries came as Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, and Vince Young, the cover athletes from 2006-2008, suffered injuries that greatly affected their play. Alexander never returned to his MVP form and Young has bounced around teams ever since his departure from the Tennessee Titans.
Brett Favre is an interesting case because he was on the cover of Madden 2009 with a Packers jersey due to his retirement. Shortly after Favre’s decision, he came back out of retirement and was traded to the Jets. With his poor on-field performance (and the infamous sexual harassment cases off the field), Favre left the Jets with an ankle injury and later left the Vikings with a shoulder injury, thus ending his career and fitting the Madden Curse.
Madden 2010 portrayed both Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu on the cover. Polamalu sprained his MCL in the season opener and missed a few games before injuring his PCL and missing even more games. Larry Fitzgerald started every game for the Cardinals but did not attend the Pro Bowl due to a rib injury. Now he’s virtually invisible in the stat book due to terribly inept quarterbacks.
Drew Brees was the cover athlete in Madden 2011 and that was the season where he threw 22 interceptions (twice as many as the year before) and lost to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. Later many athletes admitted to media members that Brees played the season with a torn MCL, thus fulfilling the Madden Curse.
Peyton Hillis filled the traditional Madden Curse slot of getting hurt and thus having his performance decline greatly. After his stellar 2010-2011 season, Hillis was voted in by fans as the Madden 2012 cover athlete but suffered a hamstring injury and strep throat that led to his demise in Cleveland.
This year, Calvin Johnson was technically the cover athlete but the introduction sequence does feature Ray Lewis giving a speech in a locker room. Lewis tore his triceps, thus ending his season but looks to return for the playoffs. Megatron? Well he now holds the single-season receiving record.
Fourteen covers, 15 athletes affected, yet somehow Calvin Johnson, with one game left, has beaten the Madden Curse. You can try to reach and say the Detroit Lions who were in the playoffs last year had a disappointing season. But there’s no way you can ignore the fact Johnson’s play never declined. The touchdowns weren’t there early on but he has the record for receiving yards in a season for crying out loud!
If Adrian Peterson ends up beating the rushing record, it still wouldn’t be as impressive as Calvin Johnson’s demolishing the Madden Curse. There are multiple running backs in the league that have a chance at history. But only one man is chosen per year to defeat the legendary Madden Curse.
In all sincerity, Calvin Johnson is a beast. Not because of this silly Madden Curse that I’ve played up, but because he can still perform at this high of a level with the rest of his teammates playing poorly all year round. Many doubters will point to the fact that Detroit has no one else to throw to in which case would make this feat even more impressive. Think about this…if you are trying to game plan against the Lions, who are you afraid of most? Calvin Johnson. So as defensive coordinator I would try to set double teams galore on Megatron. Even with this game planning, Calvin Johnson beat Jerry Rice’s record with one game to go!
I understand the greatness that is Adrian Peterson’s season while coming off an ACL injury last December. Even if he doesn’t beat Eric Dickerson’s record I would still vote Peterson for league MVP. How can you not? But Calvin Johnson’s record breaking performance in spite of another failed season by the Detroit Lions is extraordinary and worth talking about. With one game left, Johnson can “run up the score” on the record, making it near impossible for any other wide out to break it. That is…unless the Madden Curse hits him in Game 16.