The Madden Curse: Where Gaming, Football, and Superstition Collide

By | January 16, 2019

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Gaming fans sample EA Sports Madden NFL 13 game on the second day of the E3 video game extravaganza in Los Angeles on June 6, 2012. Source: (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GettyImages)

Named for legendary sports broadcaster, John Madden, EA Sports’ Madden NFL football video game is among the most popular sports-based video game franchises in history because of the realistic graphics, voice commentary, and players’ stats that have been built into the game. Beginning in 1998, EA Sports started selecting one of the NFL’s best players to appear on the cover of that season’s version of Madden NFL. At first, this was viewed as a complimentary honor, much like appearing on a Wheaties box. But in the twenty years since, only a few players that appeared on the cover of Madden NFL were able to finish the season. Many believe the Madden Curse, as it became known, is responsible for season-ending injuries and bad luck for the players selected for the cover so they go to great lengths to avoid falling victim to it. Here is a look at the Madden Curse. 

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Garrison Hearst was the first player to appear on the cover of Madden NFL. Source: (

Garrison Hearst and the Birth of the Curse

Until 1998, John Madden’s image appeared on every year’s new edition of Madden NFL. But for the launch of Madden 98, EA Sports decided to switch gears and feature a prominent player on the cover, despite objections from John Madden. Garrison Hearst of the 49ers was chosen for the cover. The former University of Georgia running back was coming off a phenomenal year with the 49ers, setting a franchise record for yards in a season and rushing/receiving yards. The 49ers were anticipating a great season with Hearst. But then, Hearst suffered a gruesome ankle break early in the season that required surgery. A complication from the surgery caused one of the bones in his foot to die, forcing more surgeries. At first, Hearst was told he would never play football again, but he did come back to the sport briefly after a long two-year recovery and rehabilitation.