Prior to 1999, every annual installment of the Madden NFL
series primarily featured John Madden
on its cover.
In 1999, Electronic Arts
selected Garrison Hearst
to appear on the PAL version's cover, and has since featured one of the league’s top players on every annual installment.
While appearing on the cover has become an honor akin to appearing on the Wheaties box
much like the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx
certain players who appeared on Madden video game box art have experienced a decline in performance, usually due to an injury. In fact, since 2001, Larry Fitzgerald
is the only player not to suffer an extreme decline in performance immediately after appearing on the game's cover.
- After Eddie George appeared on the 2001 cover, the Tennessee Titans lost in the 2001 playoffs. George also never averaged more than 3.3 yards per carry for the rest of his career.
- Daunte Culpepper led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs in 2000, but after appearing on the Madden 2002 cover, he threw 23 interceptions as the Vikings slumped to a 5–11 record. He also broke the record for most fumbles in a single season. While his career looked to be back on track in 2004 with a career season, he blew out both knees in 2005 and 2006 and never resembled the player he was at the start of the decade.
- Marshall Faulk appeared on the 2003 cover, and his career (and the success of the St. Louis Rams) severely declined afterwards. He did not register another 1,000 yard rushing season and his yards per carry average dropped from a consistent 5.4 over the previous three years to 4.5 in 2002 and 4.0 in 2003 and 2004. He started 21 out of a possible 32 games from 2002–2003 as knee injuries got the better of him. He underwent reconstructive knee surgery in 2005 and retired that same year.
- Ray Lewis, 2005 cover athlete and middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, had his season cut short in week 15 with a wrist injury. It was also Lewis' first season without an interception.
- In 2006, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb tore his ACL and meniscus in his right knee while jumping out of bounds in a game versus the Tennessee Titans, ending his season. McNabb also suffered a sports hernia in the first game of the season.
- Running back Shaun Alexander, then the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 2007, and sustained a foot injury that caused him to miss six starts.As a result, Alexander’s rushing statistics were substantially less than those from the previous season, and he never returned to true form. Alexander himself has asked, “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?"
- In 2007, GameSpot and CNBC reported that a large number of LaDainian Tomlinson's fans, who believed in the Madden Curse, were strongly opposed to EA Sports' initial decision to feature him on the 2008 cover, so much that a fan created SaveLTfromMadden.com to voice their disdain. Tomlinson eventually declined the offer, but stated it was solely due to contract negotiations.
- Madden NFL 2008's cover featured Vince Young, the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. Young missed one game of the 2007 season due to a minor injury, but for the rest of the season was roughly even with his 2006 performance. When Young appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to officially announce that he would appear on the cover of Madden NFL 2008, he derided allegations of becoming the curse’s next victim, and stated, “I've done prayed about it and we're gonna go home and try to get to the playoffs and try to get to the Super Bowl. We'll see what happens. Young injured his knee during the 2008 season, missing several weeks. Kerry Collins was named starter for the remainder of the season."
- Brett Favre appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2009 as a Green Bay Packer, under the impression that Favre was retired. However, shortly after the decision, Favre came back out of retirement and was traded to the New York Jets, which prompted EA to release a new cover online. Though he did not miss any games, he led the league in interceptions throwing 22. He later admitted to suffering a torn biceps injury, which Favre says may have affected his gameplay during the final five games of his first and only season with the New York Jets, who missed the playoffs at 9–7 after starting the season 8–3. Favre threw 2 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in the last 5 games of the season.
- On September 10, 2009, Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals and safety Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, were both featured on the cover of Madden NFL 10. Polamalu sprained his MCL in the first half of the season opener and missed the next four games. After returning, Polamalu played in three more games before injuring his posterior cruciate ligament on November 14, 2009 against Cincinnati, and missed more games as a result. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, started all 16 regular season and both playoff games for the Cardinals. He did not attend the Pro Bowl due to a rib injury, leaving Steve Smith of the New York Giants, to take his spot in the 2010 Pro Bowl. He recorded 97 receptions (third-most of his NFL career), 1,092 yards (fourth-most), and a career-high 13 touchdowns.