Despite having relatively low expectations and two bona fide star players in Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions fans will be on pins and needles all season long. Why? Because Megatron, franchise wide receiver and once-in-a-generation freak athlete, was voted onto the cover of Madden 13 this year, which pretty much means it's time to cut him from your fantasy team.
Making the cover of Madden is a pretty big deal. The videogame franchise is consistently one of the top sellers each and every year, and Madden 13 sold 1.3 million copies in the week of sales late last month. But the glory of the cover comes with a staggering cost: with very few exceptions, every cover athlete since 2002 has succumbed to injury or put up terrible numbers in the season to follow.
Let's take a look at these poor souls, one by one:
2002: Daunte Culpepper
In 2000, Culpepper threw for nearly 4,000 yards and the Vikes went to the NFC Championship game. After landing the Madden 2002 cover (remember, Madden jumps a year ahead in its numbering system), Culpepper missed the last five games of the season with a knee injury and the Vikings went 5-11.
2003: Marshall Faulk
In 2001, Faulk was one of the centerpieces of the Greatest Show on Turf and won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award en route to a Super Bowl appearance. In his cover season, Faulk missed two games to injury (which wasn't uncommon for him), but his effectiveness when healthy was severely diminished. He failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in five seasons and scored 10 fewer total touchdowns.
2004: Michael Vick
Vick didn't even make it to the regular season before the Madden curse struck. In a preseason game against the Ravens, Vick broke his fibula and missed the first 11 games of the year.
2005: Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis bucked the curse for the most part, despite putting up below-average numbers considering his standards. He had zero interceptions for the first time in his career, and missed one game due to a late-season wrist injury.
2006: Donovan McNabb
Tom Brady went and won the Super Bowl over Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, but yet again EA Sports put a member of the losing team on the cover (subplot: everyone at EA Sports is a Pats fan). McNabb responded by picking up a sports hernia is week one that would dog him all year, before bowing out for the season in Week 9 with a groin injury courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles went on to finish the season 6-10, which in retrospect was the beginning of the end McNabb era in Philadelphia.
2007: Shaun Alexander
Alexander tied a then-NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season in 2005 with 27 and ran away with the NFL MVP award. He also inked a huge $62 million dollar contract with the Seahawks, which made him the highest paid running back in the leage. In his cover year, Alexander broke his foot in week 3 and missed six games, and he would only play two more years in the league.
2008: Vince Young (seriously, stop laughing)
EA Sports may have jumped the gun on Young, who was slapped on the cover of Madden before his sophomore season in the NFL. Young missed only one game to injury, but put up nasty looking numbers all year. He finished with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, but this might not have been the curse's fault: Vince Young just isn't very good.
2009: Brett Favre
The end of the decade was a bit of a rough patch for EA, as you can see. They put a "retired" Favre on the cover, only for Brett to come back star in a sit-com called "The 2008 New York Jets." During that 9-7 season, Favre picked up an ankle injury and tore the biceps tendon in his right shoulder.
2010: Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu
Madden 10 mixed up the cover formula, featuring two players from the 2009 Super Bowl. Larry Fitzgerald dodged the curse and caught the most touchdowns of his career (13), but Polamalu missed 11 games with MCL and PCL injuries.
2011: Drew Brees
Okay, so it SEEMS like Drew Brees was invulnerable to the Madden curse (he threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns), but this was the year the curse did its most dastardly work (see: New Orleans Saints bounty scandal).
2012: Peyton Hillis
Peyton Hillis was the feel-good breakout star of 2010 and was voted by fans for the cover of Madden 12. He endured a miserable cover year, gaining less than half his rushing yard total the year before, and left Cleveland for Kansas City.
The good news is, Johnson's body seems to be incorruptible. He stands 6-foot-5, weighs 235 pounds and ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Combine. He's only missed four games in five full NFL seasons.
Most importantly, he's got a 99 overall rating in Madden. You might wonder what it would be like if LeBron James played in the NFL, and Calvin Johnson is as close to that answer as we'll ever get. He makes cornerbacks look like clowns, and all signs point to Megatron putting up Jerry Rice-like numbers this season.
Larry Fitzgerald proved a wide receiver can put up a stellar year, but only Larry and Ray Lewis have managed to completely evade the curse since 2002. That's two players out of 12, so the odds are stacked against Johnson.
This is the Madden curse's ultimate test. If it can break down Calvin Johnson, who may or may not be made of adamantium, then we're dealing with a force too strong to be comprehended. If Calvin Johnson gets hurt this year, then the Madden cover should permanently go to Roger Goodell.