Madden 2003 Cover Guy: Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams
Curse case: Faulk blasted past 1300 rushing yards every season from 1998 through2001 in earning his cover spot on Madden 2003. In 2002, though, an ankle injury sidelines him for a couple of weeks. He never could crack 1000 yards in a season after that.
Curse contradiction: What we have here is a classic case of the winding-down phase of a great running back's career. Faulk in 2002 ground out 953 yards in just 10 starts, and his 4.5 yards per carry was excellent. The injury definitely took its toll, but he had already missed two games in each of the previous two years, so he wasn't exactly a spring chicken going into 2002. It's hard to see the trajectory of Faulk's career as unnatural in any way.
Curse counterpart: Barrett Robbins, Oakland Raiders. You want cursed? How about you anchor your team's offensive line throughout an 18-game march to the Super Bowl, and then with one (rather big) game left to play, your bipolar disorder kicks in, you go AWOL during the week of festivities preceding the game, and you get suspended by your team, which then gets its collective head handed to it by the team that still has its starting center? Subsequent legal problems have haunted Robbins as well; Wikipedia reports that "To date authorities have not been able to locate him for extradition back to Florida," in connection with a plea bargain following a brawl with police there. Curse Quotient: Faulk, 110; Robbins, 270
Madden 2004 Cover Guy: Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
Curse case: Weeks after his face graced the cover of Madden 2004, Vick broke is leg in a preseason game and had to sit out most of the season. That setback, along with run-ins with the law and pitbulls (years later), have put a sad and premature stop to a once-promising career.
Curse contradiction: Okay, he's cursed. But let's clarify a few points here. Following his broken-leg year, Vick turned in three very solid years as the Falcon's quarterback, starting 46 of 48 games in that span and making up for a somewhat errant arm (38 total interceptions) with some good connections (49 total touchdowns through the air). Then the dogs got him.
Curse counterpart: Bill Romanowski, Oakland Raiders. We're in damage-control mode here because in the long haul Vick is going to beat anyone else who had a bad 2003. But Romo definitely makes a case for a silver-and-black medal in the Madden 2004 Curse Olympics. Though he was still a year away from the 60 Minutes segment where he discussed his steroid and HGH abuse, Romanowski did his part to ensure that the Raiders were done with contending in the year after their Super Bowl collapse. In the 2003 season he played in just three games before a series of concussions put him on the injured reserve list for the duration. But he had already made his biggest impact in a preseason scrimmage, slugging a teammate and crushing his eye socket--an incident for which the victim was later awarded six-figure damages in court. Funny, when teams talk about character, they rarely mention this kind of character. Curse Quotient: Michael Vick, 190; Bill Romanowski, 155
Madden 2005 Cover Guy: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Curse case: A dominating middle linebacker, Lewis actually managed to ward off the jinx long enough to play 15 games the year he appeared on the box. He notched 101 tackles and 46 assists that season before breaking his arm and sitting out the final game of the season.
Curse contradiction: You could say that Lewis had a pretty decent year in 2004--named to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in eight years (he was named again in 2006 and 2007), named first-team All-Pro by AP and Sporting News. And by the way, Lewis gets zero curse credits for the incident where two people died in the limo he happened to be in after a Super Bowl party in January 2000 because that was four years before the Madden Football cover appearance.
Curse counterpart: Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins. Here's a guy who's been in the league for five years and run for an average of 1277 yards per season and caught passes for another 301 yards per season. Do we want him on the cover of Madden 2005? Heck, yeah! This would have been a curse clincher for EA Sports, but instead: Fumble! Williams's well-known struggles with social anxiety disorder led him to self-medicate with marijuana--and shortly after testing positive for banned/illegal substances he was out of the NFL. He is still trying to work his way back to the level of play he showed during his first half-decade in the pros. Curse Quotient: Ray Lewis, 80; Ricky Williams, 230