- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Not since the tandem of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice has there been anything in pro football as reliable as the “Madden Curse.”

It struck once again Sunday, when Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander broke his foot, making him the sixth player in as many years to be injured in the same season they appeared on the cover of EA Sports’ Madden NFL video game.

How real the curse is may be up for debate, but it’s hard to ignore the trend of injuries and poor performances that have plagued some of the most high-profile stars in the season in which they appear on the Madden video game.

“We were aware of the so-called ‘Madden Curse’ and we did think about it, but didn’t put a whole lot of credence to it,” said Mark Heligman, Alexander’s marketing agent. “It sure looks like it’s real, but I’m not a guy who believes in it and neither does Shaun.”

Previous “victims” include Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who graced last year’s cover before missing the last seven games of the season with a sports hernia, and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who appeared on the cover in 2003 and broke his leg in a preseason game.

ens linebacker Ray Lewis had one of his worst years and broke his wrist after appearing on the cover in 2004, and then-Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper missed five games with a knee injury after being selected for the 2002 cover.

Officials at EA Sports also are skeptical of the curse’s existence, pointing out that most athletes on the Madden cover have played key positions where injuries are common. But they are quick to bemoan their bad luck over the years. Alexander was last year’s NFL MVP, and was considered one of the more durable running backs in the league.

“We were prepared to have a press conference announcing the end of the ‘Madden Curse,’” oked Chris Erb, EA Sports’ director of marketing. “It’s a bit of a bummer for us. We want our guys to have the best season possible.”

Clearly, the “Madden Curse” hasn’t hurt sales of the game. Madden NFL is the top-selling sports video game in the world. EA has sold more than 2 million copies of this year’s game since it went on sale in August, and more than 45 million units since the game was introduced in 1989. EA began putting players on the cover in 1999 with Lions running back Barry Sanders, who unexpectedly retired before the season began. The Madden cover, despite talk of a curse, remains one of the most coveted promotional gigs for an athlete.

“A lot of guys now want to be on the cover of Madden,” said Bob Philp,cq senior director of talent marketing at 16W Marketing, which represents several former and current NFL players, including injured Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms. “There may be a jinx thing, but a lot of guys just want to be on the cover of a video game. Do I think they would turn it down? Unless they’re really superstitious, I doubt it.”

Heligman, whose firm also represents 80 NFL players including Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson, said he would not stand in the way if a client were chosen for the cover.

“I would have no problem supporting a player being on the cover of Madden,” he said. “It’s one of the endorsements that year after year a player covets. I know Shaun would do it again.”

• Madden 2001

Eddie George: Arguably the least “cursed,” the running back had the best season of his career, but bobbled a pass that was returned for a touchdown by Ray Lewis in a playoff game.

• Madden 2002

Daunte Culpepper: The Vikings quarterback threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13) before missing the final five games with a knee injury.

• Madden 2003

Marshall Faulk: The Rams running back missed two games with an ankle injury, and has yet to top 1,000 yards rushing since appearing on the cover.

• Madden 2004

Michael Vick: The athletic Falcons quarterback broke his leg during a preseason game and missed the first 11 games of the season.

• Madden 2005

Ray Lewis: The linebacker missed the last game of the regular season with an injured wrist and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.

• Madden 2006

Donovan McNabb: The quarterback battled a sports hernia all season and missed the final seven games. The Eagles finished 6-10, their worst record since 1999.

• Madden 2007

Shaun Alexander: The reigning NFL MVP broke his foot Sunday during the Seahawks win over the Giants. He’ll miss at least two weeks, dealing a blow to the defending NFC champs.

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