The Madden Curse: Is it real?

The entire world of fantasy football watched with bated breath in the offseason as it was announced which athlete would be on the cover of the Madden 2008 video game. After all, the now infamous curse that seems have haunted players on the past six covers has become the most prominent jinx in all of sports -- it now appears to be even more potent than the Sports Illustrated cover curse. While some consider a jinx or a hex to be foolish, even those who aren't superstitious can't dispute the fact that whoever has donned the cover has suffered a serious injury or a decrease in statistical success.

Before we discuss how the curse could affect the value of this season's cover athlete, Vince Young, let's first take a look at what this so-called hex has done to past athletes. Keep in mind that all the information below is factual.

Garrison Hearst (1999): Hearst was the first athlete to ever be seen on a Madden cover -- John Madden was on the cover in previous seasons. The veteran rushed for a career-best 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns in the 1998 regular season, but Hearst would sustain a serious ankle ailment in a postseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons and was not able to return to action until 2001.

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Barry Sanders (2000): Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards in 1998 and was scheduled to be on the cover in 2000, but the Hall of Fame runner decided to retire before the start of the season. Dorsey Levens, who rushed for an impressive 1,034 yards and scored 10 total touchdowns in 1999, would replace Sanders in some versions of the cover. Levens went on to rush for a mere 224 yards and three touchdowns in 2000 and had a combined 1,183 rushing yards between Green Bay, Philadelphia and the New York Giants over what were the final four seasons of his career.

Eddie George (2001): George avoided the Madden curse in 2000 -- he recorded career bests in both rushing yards (1,509) and total touchdowns (16) -- but it would victimize him in 2001. He had what was a career-low 939 rushing yards with five scores that season and would average a mediocre 876 yards in his final three seasons -- he averaged 1,375 yards in his first five seasons.

Daunte Culpepper (2002): Culpepper earned an appearance on the cover after a 2000 season that saw him record 3,937 passing yards, 470 rushing yards and 40 total touchdowns, but the curse struck him down in 2001. He would miss the final five weeks due to an injured knee and finished that season with 2,612 passing yards, 416 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns.

Marshall Faulk (2003): A surefire future Hall of Famer, Faulk was a statistical machine before he donned the 2003 cover. An injured ankle cost him two contests in 2002, and he failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 1996. Faulk would never again reach the 1,000-yard mark in his career, and his numbers declined in each season after his appearance on the Madden cover.

Michael Vick (2004): Even a versatile athlete like Vick couldn't elude the curse, as he sustained a broken right fibula in a preseason game versus the Baltimore Ravens and was forced to miss the first 11 contests of the regular season due to the ailment. He was able to make five starts late in the season, but Vick finished with just 585 passing yards, 255 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

Ray Lewis (2005): Lewis was the first (and only to this point) defensive athlete to be featured on the cover, but he fell victim to the curse nonetheless. The All-Pro linebacker missed one start in 2004 due to a broken wrist and failed to record an interception for the first time in his career (he had a career-best six interceptions in 2003). He also missed 10 starts due to injuries in 2005.

Donovan McNabb (2006): McNabb led the Eagles to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX and was on the cover of the 2006 version. He sustained a sports hernia in the first week of the 2005 season and attempted to continue on despite the ailment, but he would bow out after nine starts. The curse also seemed to strike him in 2006, as McNabb missed six weeks with an injured knee.

Shaun Alexander (2007): Alexander had one of the best statistical seasons ever in 2005, as he rushed for 1,880 yards and scored what was a record 28 total touchdowns. Alexander, who had missed one start in his previous 64 contests, sustained an injured foot after he was on the cover last season. He missed six starts and failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since 2000.

Vince Young (2008): TBD

The question now is simple: What can we conclude from these unbelievable facts, and is Young destined to suffer some sort of ailment that will cost him at least a portion of the 2007 season?

Well, outside of those that have an audience with the ultimate prognosticator, Nostradamus, no one will know until (and if) it happens. But one thing is certain: This curse does hold some water. In fact, reports indicate LaDainian Tomlinson passed on the chance to be on the cover this season.

Young and his agent, Major Adams, have both dispelled the curse. In fact, Adams even noted that his client won a national championship for the University of Texas in the Rose Bowl after an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But owners who heeded the Madden curse and passed on McNabb and Alexander over the past two seasons saved their chance at a league title.

While the lone athlete to avoid the curse in the season he was on the cover was George, who was also a member of the Tennessee Titans, the past three quarterbacks (McNabb, Vick, Culpepper) to fall victim all possessed similar skill sets to those of Young as talented passers and runners. While that could be little more than a mere coincidence, it is still a notable piece of information.

Young has the abilities to make an immense statistical impact in his second season, and he will be without question one of the 10 most attractive quarterbacks in all drafts, curse or no curse. While he won't have more draft value than the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger, Tom Brady or McNabb, Young's stock is similar to that of Matt Hasselbeck and Philip Rivers. That will make him well worth a fourth- to sixth-round selection in all formats.

The ultimate decision on whether or not to choose Young based on the aforementioned facts about the Madden cover curse is up to each individual owner. However, it will be difficult to overlook a quarterback like Young, who has the potential to record 2,300-2,500 passing yards, 500-700 rushing yards and 20-25 total touchdowns, if he falls in drafts over pure superstition.

Those fantasy football owners who do reject the curse and take Young as their No. 1 quarterback would still be wise to add a solid signal-caller like Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Brett Favre or Jake Delhomme as insurance and a potential sleeper like J.P. Losman or Jason Campbell late as a third option.

It might not hurt to bring a rabbit's foot to the draft, either.

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