If you're a fan of the National Football League, chances are pretty good that you've heard of the Madden Curse.
In case you've been living under a rock, the Madden Curse is a seemingly otherworldly phenomenon in which the athlete whose picture is on the cover of the hugely popular Madden video game suffers either a season-ending injury or some other unfortunate twist of fate.
Don't believe in curses, hexes, jinxes and the like? Alas, it's all too real. There's just too much history at this point. In fact, I've been part of fantasy football leagues where players pass on certain NFLers just because said athlete is on the cover of Madden.
Here's a cumulative history of the Madden Curse and those afflicted:
Garrison Hearst (1999): Hearst, a running back for the San Francisco 49ers, was the first player to appear on the cover of the franchise's game after years of John Madden himself gracing the front of the box. Hearst put together a monster season after the game came out, rushing for almost 1,600 yards and leading the 49ers to the playoffs. That, some people say, is when 'The Curse' started. Hearst broke his ankle in those playoffs. The injury was so severe that he missed two full seasons and was never the same player upon return.
Barry Sanders (2000): Sanders is arguably the best running back in the history of the NFL. When he was chosen to be the face of the Madden franchise in 2000, he abruptly retired. Sure, he gave his reasons regarding the culture of losing in Detroit, but I think we all know he was simply petrified of the Madden Curse. Madden later released another cover in 2000 featuring Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens, who almost immediately injured his knee.
Daunte Culpepper (2002): Football fans will forever remember Culpepper for his rolling touchdown dance and his deep bombs to a young Randy Moss. If he hadn't fallen victim to the Madden Curse, we might remember him for postseason glory, too. He was just that good. But as the 2002 season began, Culpepper struggled badly before being shut down with a season-ending knee injury. The 6-foot-4, 264 pound behemoth of a quarterback returned to have some sensational seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but of course, he wasn't on the cover of Madden in those seasons.
Marshall Faulk (2003): This one hurt the most I think. 'The Curse' took away a legend. Faulk was the unquestioned best offensive player in the game. He was the unstoppable force who spearheaded the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis. Almost from Day 1 of the 2003 season, Faulk dealt with an ankle injury. It was obvious from his play on the field and his stats that something was very wrong. It was another obvious case of the Madden Curse rearing its ugly head. Faulk toiled in obscurity for a few more years before calling it quits.
Michael Vick (2004): When Vick broke into the league, he was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. The way he could run, combined with his arm strength, made it seem like he was an All-American playing against a junior high team. He was an obvious choice for the cover of Madden. 'The Curse' wasted no time in striking down the mighty Vick. A mere one day after the video game was released, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback broke his leg. He missed 11 games that year. Yes, people will probably remember Vick for his legal trouble, but you should remember him for setting the record for fastest Madden Curse affliction.
Ray Lewis (2005): Even Lewis, perhaps the most terrifying individual to ever put on shoulder pads, could not scare away the Madden Curse. After appearing on the cover with his patented intense glare, Lewis broke his wrist. If you made an argument that the future Hall of Fame middle linebacker hasn't been the same player since, I wouldn't argue.
I think you're starting to get the point, so here's a quick rundown of the subsequent years:
Donovan McNabb (2006): Sports hernia, missed seven games.
Shaun Alexander (2007): Fractured foot, out of the league within two years.
Vince Young (2008): Do I need to explain this one? This guy's whole pro career has been a wreck.
Brett Favre (2009): After being the most popular player in Packers' history, he fell out of favor and was traded to the New York Jets.
Troy Polamalu & Larry Fitzgerald (2010): Polamalu played in just five games because of injury and Fitzgerald suffered an injury that kept him out of the playoffs. The Madden Curse took two players out at once and laughed at the challenge.
Drew Brees (2011): Possibly the only player to avoid the curse to date. You'd have to really scrounge to find faults with his 2011 campaign. I've heard people argue that the embarrassing playoff loss to the underdog Seattle Seahawks was the Madden Curse in action, but Brees got off pretty easy.
Peyton Hills (2012): Hillis, on the other hand, took the Madden Curse to new heights last season. After winning the hearts of America with his gutsy running for the Cleveland Browns, Hillis got into a contract dispute, fell out of favor with just about everyone AND got hurt. Nicely done, Peyton. Thanks for making us believe in the curse again.
This year, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is on the cover of the Madden game.
So does the man they call 'Megatron' have anything to fear?
I say no and here's why: Every single one of the players above has something in common. They're human. The Madden Curse can only affect humans, and clearly Megatron is a robot, so look for another eye-popping season from Johnson.
Now that ESPN has partnered with Madden so that fans can vote on which athlete appears on the cover of the game, voters need to use caution.
Do you vote for your favorite player knowing he'll inevitably fall victim to some catastrophic event? Is it really worth it to see his face on a box?
If you do vote, do me a personal favor and never vote for Aaron Rodgers or Clay Mathews. Both would make solid choices as they are fan favorites and very charismatic players, but as a Packers fan, I couldn't bear to have one of them fall victim to 'The Curse.' Thank You.
Stefan Gestwicki is an OBSERVER sports reporter. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.