Madden: The Man, the Game, the Curse

Madden 2006 Cover Guy: Donavan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles

Curse case: After a superb Super Bowl run with the Eagles in 2004, McNabb was a cinch to break the run of bad luck at Madden central, right? Wrong! Socked with a hernia, McNabb played through the pain for as long as he could, but eventually shut down 9 games into the 16-game season. He wound up 2005 with 2507 passing yards but he had been on a pace for more than 4000 yards.

Curse contradiction: How can you be a world-class Joe Btfsplk when you aren't even the number one Joe Btfsplk on your own team (that would be Terrell Owens, who in 2005 managed to carp his way into a four-game team suspension and eventually deactivation for conduct detrimental, after having carped his way into Philadelphia from San Francisco only a year earlier)? A hernia rates special curse points, and the ACL tear McNabb suffered during the following season didn't dispel thoughts of supernatural malevolence at work, but last season McNabb appeared to be all the way back to pretty good health, with only a sprained ankle and a jammed thumb to mar the picnic in the park.

Curse counterpart: Onterrio Smith, Minnesota Vikings. In any normal year, Owens's antics would have put him at the head of the cursed class. But when it comes to notoriety, Onterrio Smith had a year for the ages. In May of 2005, Smith was stopped by airport security at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport: Zealous authorities had spotted a device in his luggage that evidently made them fear for the homeland. It was an Original Whizzinator, a product designed to defeat urine testing even when the tester is right there in the same room with you. (The Whizzinator site points out that the device comes in five designer colors--"white," "tan," "latino," "brown," and "black"--so you can choose a complementary shade or go for high contrast.) The humorless NFL suspended Smith for the 2005 season, the Vikings dumped him the following spring, and he has yet to reappear in the NFL. Curse Quotient: McNabb, 140; Smith, 210

Madden 2007 Cover Guy: Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks

Curse case: In 2005, Alexander led the NFL in rushing yards (1880), rushing touchdowns (27), and points scored (168). His reward: a juicy contract to re-up with the Seahawks and a nice big Madden Football cover shot. Oh and a curse, to the tune of one fractured ankle, six missed games, and 984 fewer yards rushing than in 2005. In 2007 he was hampered by fractured wrist that again limited him to action in 10 of the 16 regular-season games, and in the off-season Seattle said adios.

Curse contradiction: This one doesn't look so good. Alexander had missed only one game in the previous four seasons before the injury bug bit him in 2006. And he hasn't made it through either season since the first break.

Curse counterpart: Maurice Clarett, most recently Denver Broncos. You could certainly argue that Koren Robinson of the Green Bay Packers would have been a more logical choice by Madden Football, since he had actually played a down of football in the NFL (and in fact had made the Pro Bowl in 2005) before getting bounced out of the league for a year on account of persistent problems with alcohol. But sometimes a curse is just too big to ignore, and Maurice Clarett is a civics lesson in everything that can go wrong. At Ohio State, Clarett had some brushes with the law that ended with his being suspended in 2003 for what would have been his sophomore year of football. He then tried to buck the NFL's three-years-of-college rule and get included in the spring 2004 pro draft, but his legal challenge failed. In 2005 he tried out at the predraft combine but was so out of shape that he was nicknamed "Slow-Mo." Drafted by Denver anyway in the third round, Clarett showed no improvement during training camp and was released. In 2006 the downward spiral continued with arrests in February (for armed robbery) and August (for gun law violations and resisting arrest). Clarett accepted a plea bargain that landed him in Ohio state prison. Curse Quotient: Alexander, 200; Clarett, 300

Madden 2008 Cover Guy: Vince Young, Tennessee Titans

Curse case: There really isn't one. The young Titans quarterback not only made it through the entire 2006 season intact (except for one game, which he missed with a quadriceps injury), he actually improved on his 2005 completion percentage and passing yardage numbers. To crown his season, he led his squad to the playoffs, though they lost to the Chargers in their first postseason game.

Curse contradiction: If he's getting better, he hasn't been hoodooed.

Curse counterpart: Adam Jones, Tennessee Titans. Young didn't get any help on defense or special teams in 2007 from Adam "Pacman" Jones, a superb athlete and strip-club enthusiast who spent the year on the NFL's suspended list. Various unspecified off-field episodes and one very notorious one contributed to the league office's disappointment in Jones, which evidently continues, as he has not yet been cleared to play in the NFL in 2008 (the Titans meanwhile traded him to the Cowboys). Curse Quotient: Young, 0; Jones, 190

Madden 2009 Cover Guy: Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers New York Jets

Curse case: Electronic Arts did the right thing in choosing as its cover subject for the 2008 football season a guy who is 39 years old and until very recently was retired. He shouldn't have any trouble continuing never to miss a game and thereby quashing all talk of a Madden Football curse, should he?

Curse contradiction: Yeah, that seems fair.

Curse counterpart: Chris Henry, most recently Cincinnati Bengals. Favre may get hurt in game one with the Jets, but at least he'll probably be in game one. Chris Henry, even after beating an assault rap several weeks ago, is without a team (the Bengals released him in April) and has four games to serve on a suspension meted out by NFL commissioner Goodell in response to that incident; Henry already missed eight games to a suspension in 2007, following a flurry of four arrests within six months in 2006. Curse Quotient: Favre, overdue to go way up; Henry, already up there

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