Madden 2000 Featured Player: Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions
Curse case: This guy is a living legend: ten Pro Bowls, a shared MVP award (with Bret Favre) and his best season saw him run for 2053 yards, breaking O.J. Simpson's record. Sanders receives the red-carpet treatment from Madden Football, and suddenly--a month or so before the 1999 season begins--he opts out of his contract and retires.
Curse contradiction: Barry Sanders retired at the top of his game and on his own terms--the first superstar running back to do since Jim Brown left the Browns for Hollywood in 1966. So he's cursed how? Even Lions fans had little to complain about in the short term. With Sanders punishing the opposition in 1998, Detroit went 5-11. Without him, they went 8-8 in 1999 and 9-7 in 2000. Oh, and again, Barry ain't actually on the front cover of Madden 2000.
Curse counterpart: Rae Carruth, Carolina Panthers. Admittedly, Rae Carruth wasn't a superstar, but he had a nice 1997 rookie campaign (44 receptions, 545 yards) and was looking to bounce back from a broken foot that ended his 1998 season after two games. So what happened in 1999? A total psychic meltdown at midseason, which led Carruth to shoot his estranged girlfriend in a drive-by attack. (She identified him as the shooter before she died.) Carruth is serving time in state prison for at least the next 10 years. Curse Quotient: Sanders, 50; Carruth, off the meter
Madden 2001 Cover Guy: Eddie George, Tennessee Titans
Curse case: George scored the first true cover spot, bumping Coach John off the front page. In 2000, he actually improved, running for a career high 1509 yards on the ground, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, and being named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl. But over the next three years he averaged just over 1000 yards rushing his career closed out with a skimpy 432 total in a cameo with the Cowboys.
Curse contradiction: Let's get this straight: George had a career year the season he appeared on Madden Football. Oh, but his fine career did wind down eventually. Some curse!
Curse counterpart: Duce Staley, Philadelphia Eagles. In 1999 Staley put together a package of 1567 rushing and receiving yards as the feature back in the Eagles' West Coast offense, but five games into the 2000 season, he fractured his foot and was done for the year. But really, we could have beaten EA's curse by picking anyone who didn't have a career year in 2000, now couldn't we? Curse Quotient: George, 0; Staley, 150
Madden 2002 Cover Guy: Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings
Curse Case: After a strong run in 2000, when the Vikings finished 11-5, Culpepper slid backward the next year during his Madden Football cover season. That year (2001) the Vikes went 4-7 with Culpepper, before his season ended abruptly with a knee injury. The next year he tossed 18 touchdowns, but led the league with 23 interceptions, and Minnesota struggled to 6-10 record.
Curse contradiction: No question Culpepper didn't match his fine freshman campaign of 2000 in either of the following two years, but he had a very good year in 2003 and a career year in 2004 (39 touchdowns 11 interceptions), so even believers in the curse can't claim that it permanently derailed Culpepper's career.
Curse counterpart: Nate Newton, most recently of the Carolina Panthers. If proof were needed that a curse can reach someone in retirement, the massive Nate Newton--an outstanding left guard for the Cowboys and a Pro Bowler as recently as 1998--serves as an object lesson. Though he left the game after the 1999 season, Newton remained very active during retirement. Twice within five weeks during the 2001 NFL season, he got caught with enough marijuana to float a horse--a total of 388 pounds of the stuff, which means that it actually outweighed him by a little bit. But you can't say he didn't learn from his mistakes: In the second bust Newton was carrying about 40 pounds less. Curse Quotient: Culpepper, 135; Newton, very high