Fans surprisingly vault Hillis over Rodgers in 'Madden' vote

The Cleveland Browns have fielded just two winning teams in the last 10 years, but their passionate fan base deserves credit for toppling a Super Bowl champion.

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Behind the strength of online fan voting, Browns running back Peyton Hillis knocked off Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl XLV MVP, on Monday to vault into the finals of the "Madden NFL 12" cover-model contest against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

The winner of the Hillis-Vick showdown will be announced April 27 at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Fan voting propelled 10th-seeded Hillis over top-seeded Rodgers by a decisive 61 percent-to-39 percent margin. More than 548,000 people voted.

"It's no surprise to me that he ended up pulling ahead, and I'd attribute that a lot to our Browns Backers across the country," said Kelly Carroll, manager of the team's official fan club, Browns Backers.

Carroll praised Browns fans nationwide for a social-media-driven grassroots campaign that led to the upset.

"Fortunately for the Browns, our Backers take it on themselves to spark excitement," Carroll said. "I don't know the numbers, but just looking at Facebook pages and sites around the web, you can see the enthusiasm."

The Packers' organization offered no comment on the results, but Rodgers did.

"I dont ever like losing but Peyton Hillis is a great player and he's worked hard to get to where he's at," Rodgers tweeted. "Lots of respect for him."

Rodgers also made light of avoiding the "Madden Curse," which has plagued a laundry list of past cover models who came down with injuries or had subpar seasons.

"Gb fans who are scared of the curse are rejoicing somewhere today haha," Rodgers tweeted.

Jerry Garner, vice president of the Northwest Packer Backers, said Green Bay fans are weary of the supposed curse because the team -- and its quarterback -- have that much farther to fall.

"I voted for Rodgers but still had the hope he would lose because of the curse," Garner said, adding that while he was proud of the Packers for winning the Super Bowl in a season when 15 players landed on injured reserve, he had no interest in seeing the quarterback tread that path next season.

Kevin Hoyt, president of the Southern California Browns Backers Association, dismissed any concern over the curse and pointed to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who graced last year's cover, as someone who defied the hex.

Hoyt isn't surprised by Hillis' unexpected run.

"I don't care about the curse," Hoyt said. "The blue-collar mentality that Hillis represents is what most of America can get their minds around. It's been a while since we've had a player that caused a buzz, and I think he earned it. His hard work and his dedication earned it. I think America responded."

The Browns acquired Hillis, a 2011 sixth-round draft pick and a conditional 2012 selection last March when they shipped former first-round pick Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos. Hillis then broke out to become one of the NFL's surprise stars of 2010, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with catching 61 passes for 477 yards and two more scores.

Hillis was pitted against Rodgers following victories over Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in previous rounds. Hillis could face his biggest challenge in Vick, who stepped into the Eagles' starting quarterback spot last year after Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion in the season opener and ended up the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Vick set career highs for passing yards (3,018), touchdown passes (21), completions (233), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2). Vick also rushed for 676 yards and nine scores and saw his popularity soar.

That popularity helped catapult Vick past Vikings running back Adrian Peterson 59 percent to 41 percent to reach the contest's finals after defeating Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and San Francisco linebacker 49ersPatrick Willis in earlier rounds.

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