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Madden NFL: Ruining pro careers since 1999

Matt Forman

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I’ve never been a big fan of curses.

Really, how do you define one? And how do you believe in a curse?

It’s easy to blame a curse for anything negative and believe in the supernatural, even if it’s irrational.

The only “curse” that really affected me was the Curse of Billy Penn – a gentlemen’s agreement that no building be built taller than the statue of William Penn on City Hall in Philadelphia.

But when the Comcast Building was built in 2007, union workers put a miniature figurine of Penn at the highest point on the tallest building in the city. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, putting an end to the city’s 20-year championship drought.

The Philadelphia curse is gone, but there are others everywhere. It’s impossible to escape them. The Billy Goat Curse. The Curse of the Bambino. The Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Recently, I learned of a Northwestern football curse from a former sports information director at the school. In fact, he had put the curse directly on the football program.

In 1997, George Beres, who served in the athletic department from 1968-1973, plucked petals from a rose in the parking lot of Ryan Field, proclaiming his curse on the program. NU would never win an outright conference title, until the former Dyche Stadium name was reinstated. Beres claimed the university’s decision to change the name to Ryan Field, in honor of Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick Ryan, went against the tradition and history of intercollegiate athletics.

Beres is a self-proclaimed sports mystic. He put a curse on the University of Oregon, where he more recently served as a sports information director. Five years ago, the Ducks announced plans for a new arena to replace the historic McArthur Court, again upsetting Beres.

Although his argument is well-founded, I don’t believe in either of Beres’ curses.

But it did get me thinking of other curses in sports, and I think there’s only one with real merits – the Madden Football curse. Sorry, Cubs fans – I know it’s been a long 100 years.

Until 1999, John Madden appeared on the cover of his own video game. In a move to remove the aging, Turducken-eating Hall of Famer from the front, players were given the honor.

Since then, the results have been shocking.

In 2000, running backs Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions and Dorsey Levens of the Green Bay Packers appeared on versions of the cover. Sanders retired a week later at the height of his career. Levens rushed for 224 yards and retired five years later.

From that point on, the scene was set.

Daunte Culpepper was one of the most feared quarterbacks in the league in 2001. The next year, the Vikings started 4-7 and then Culpepper suffered a knee-ending injury. He is now a backup quarterback for the 0-16 Lions.

Michael Vick – one of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks in league history – broke a bone in his leg and missed 12 games in 2003. We all know what happened two summers ago.

In 2007, then-Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander scored 15 touchdowns in five straight seasons and was given a monster contract. One year after appearing on the cover of Madden 07, he totaled 11 rushing attempts last year for the Washington Redskins.

Last year, Brett Favre starred on the cover in a Packers jersey. He was later traded to the Jets, where he suffered a torn biceps tendon and went 1-4 in the team’s final five regular season games.

That doesn’t even account for Eddie George and Vince Young, whose periods of stardom for the Titans were far too short.

Now, Madden has retired from broadcasting and the game is going a new route – two cover athletes. This year sports a Super Bowl rematch, with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

I don’t root for players to get injured, but the Madden curse is almost too good to be true. This year, the curse will be twice as strong.

Deputy Sports Editor Matt Forman is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.

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