If you're friends with Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis, you may want to pass along your condolences -- not because he lives in Cleveland, or because he's only the second-most famous player in the NFL named Peyton, but because he was chosen (by popular vote, I might add) to represent the league on the cover of this year's version of the Madden video game, Madden 2012.
Earlier this year, fans had a chance to vote via a March Madness-style bracket for who would grace the cover of the world's most popular sports video game and, in one of the most peculiar viral efforts in the history of the Internet, Hillis secured the sacred spot by defeating Michael Vick in the finals.
(Vick's consolation prize? The $100 million, six-year contract he agreed to yesterday with the Eagles.)
In actuality, Vick probably wasn't all that heartbroken over losing the cover boy status to Hillis. You see, Vick's had a look at the Madden cover before, and he knows as well as anyone the doom that awaits Hillis around the corner.
It's well known by now, adorning the front of the carton for the Madden video game is a humongous curse. It's virtually bulletproof, basically the equivalent of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated...arm in arm with Ted McGinley...while both wearing Cubs jerseys....and rubbing the Brady Bunch tiki statue on each other's faces.
Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
NOTE: Keep in mind, because of the release dates and the way they name the game, the year depicted in each respective edition of Madden is typically two years removed from the actual NFL season where the player performed to the level that got him cover boy accolades to begin with, e.g., Eddie George's 1999 season got him on the cover of Madden 2001. Make sense?
MADDEN 2001, Eddie George 1999 season: George led the Titans to the Super Bowl, rushing for over 1,300 yards and over four yards per carry for the only other time beside his rookie season. Post Madden: After a solid 2000 season, Eddie George dipped below 1,000 yards in 2001 and never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry for the rest of his career.
MADDEN 2002, Daunte Culpepper 2000 season: Culpepper led the Vikings to a playoff berth in his first full season as a starter, throwing for almost 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. Post Madden: The Vikings slumped to 5-11 in 2002 as Culpepper threw 23 interceptions. He appeared to recapture some magic in 2004, but eventually blew out both knees and was last seen trolling around for a tryout in the NFL.
MADDEN 2003, Marshall Faulk 2001 season: Faulk gained over 2,000 all-purpose yards as he and Kurt Warner led the Rams to their second Super Bowl in three seasons. Post Madden: Faulk never rushed for 1,000 yards again and his career settled into a steady decline over the next four years.
MADDEN 2004, Michael Vick 2002 season: In his first full season as a starter, Vick threw for almost 3,000 yards and rushed for almost 800 yards in leading the Falcons to a playoff berth and a win over Green Bay in Lambeau Field, the first defeat for the Packers in the postseason in that stadium. Post Madden: Where to begin...he broke his leg the following season and missed 11 games, and honestly never really recaptured the magic of 2002 in his time in Atlanta. During the rest of his career there, he was best known for flipping the bird to the fans, smuggling bong water onto planes, giving herpes to women under an awesome assumed name ("Ron Mexico") and staging one of the biggest underground dogfighting rings in the free world. He wound up going to prison for 18 months. Any questions?
MADDEN 2005, Ray Lewis 2003 season: Lewis was the leading vote recipient for the 2003 AP All-Pro team, earning 49 of 50 votes. He also won the annual AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year with 43 votes out of 50. Post Madden: His next two seasons were cut short by injury -- in Week 15 in 2004 and then in Week 6 in 2005. To his credit, Lewis has recovered nicely from that.
MADDEN 2006, Donovan McNabb 2004 season: McNabb passed for nearly 4,000 yards while leading the Eagles to only their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Post Madden: Spent the next two seasons riddled by injuries, including a torn ACL and a sports hernia. Eventually, McNabb was traded to Washington where he was completely disrespected and dismissed by the mad scientist Mike Shanahan.
MADDEN 2007, Shaun Alexander 2005 season: Alexander was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2005, rushing for over 1,800 yards and 27 touchdowns in leading the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Post Madden: Suffered a foot injury in 2006, missed six starts and was never the same player. Lived out his final days as a Washington Redskin running like he was on a powder puff team.
MADDEN 2008, Vince Young 2006 season: In his rookie season, Young went 8-5 as a starter, including four wins in the fourth quarter, and made the Pro Bowl. Post Madden: After a solid 2007 season, Young was injured early in 2008 and watched Kerry Collins lead the Titans to a 13-3 record. In 2009, Jeff Fisher told Young he would have to earn his job back, and Young responded by disappearing on a Monday night early in the season. (He was eventually found eating chicken wings.)
MADDEN 2009, Brett Favre 2007 season: As an homage to a "retired" Favre, the Madden folks put him on the cover on the heels of his leading the Packers to the NFC title game. This would make the video game folks the first of thousands to be duped by a fake Brett Favre retirement. Post Madden: Favre wound up back in the league with the Jets in 2008, where he was best known for choking away a playoff spot and snapping pictures of his dong and texting them to Jenn Sterger. He would eventually wind up in Minnesota throwing soul-crushing interceptions and stunting the growth of that franchise as well.
MADDEN 2010, Larry Fitzgerald/Troy Polamalu 2008 season: Perhaps trying to hedge their bets, the Madden folks put two players on the cover, hoping maybe one could stay healthy. Both of these guys were Pro Bowlers in 2008 and faced off in the Super Bowl. Post Madden: They got one out of two, which presumably was their target. Polamalu missed several games with various knee injuries, but Fitzgerald had a Pro Bowl season in leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
MADDEN 2011, Drew Brees 2009 season: Brees led the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl where they upset the Colts to send the Big Easy into a drunken frenzy (as opposed to the relaxed drunk that the city normally enjoys). Post Madden: The Saints returned to the playoffs, but Brees threw 23 interceptions and the Saints were upset in the opening round of the playoffs by a 7-9 Seahawks team.
R.I.P., Peyton Hillis.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Yahoo! Sports Radio (Sirius 94, XM 208) and on 1560 The Game, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.