NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – If you've got Ray Lewis in your fantasy football league, you might want to consider trading him.
Electronic Arts has announced that the Baltimore Ravens linebacker will be the cover athlete for the latest entry in its Madden football series. On one hand, this is a coup for Lewis. Getting your face on the cover of a top-selling video game is the modern equivalent of the Wheaties box. It's something most athletes aspire to.
But the PR boost carries a dark side as well: The Madden Curse.
You may have heard of this. Basically, each year, EA selects a promising, well-known player for the Madden cover. For the past four years, the player to front the game has seen their career suffer.
|Lewis' new cover
Take Michael Vick, who graced Madden's cover last year. He was on a roll coming into the year, having set four NFL records in the 2002 season and established a reputation as one of the games' most electrifying players. Early in the 2003 pre-season, Vick broke his leg in the first quarter of a game against, ironically enough, the Baltimore Ravens.
2002's cover boy Marshall Faulk of the St. Louis Rams didn't fare much better. Coming off his seventh 1,000 yard season, Faulk – and the Rams - seemed untouchable. Faulk injured his ankle, missed six games and the Rams didn't last long in the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper? He fronted Madden in 2001 and wasn't much luckier. His cover-gracing season ended early, with a knee injury against Chicago.
The curse started four years ago with Tennessee running back Eddie George. Coming into the season, he was one of the leading forces in the Titans lineup and many expected him to lead the team to its second straight Super Bowl. Instead, he had his worst season ever, averaging just three yards per carry. And, naturally, he was injured several times in the season, including a brutal hit in the 2001 post season.
The man who administered that hit? Ray Lewis.
So, you see, things have come full circle of sorts for Madden. Sweet irony, isn't it? It's kind of a shame, actually, that Tennesee and Baltimore aren't facing each other this year. Our sports columnist Chris Isidore told me he cannot remember an offensive player ever injuring a defensive one – but if Eddie George and Ray Lewis were on the same field this year, I wouldn't rule it out.
Naturally, Lewis is focusing on the positive aspects of today's announcement. Any game cover is incredible exposure for an athlete – and the game Lewis is representing just happens to be a consistent best seller. "Madden NFL 2004" sold more than 5 million copies.
"To be on the cover of Madden NFL 2005 is the ultimate honor," said Lewis in a statement. "With the focus on defense in the game this year, I knew it was my chance."
In fairness, cover curses aren't exclusive to Madden. Sports Illustrated, a corporate cousin in the Time Warner family, has been accused of having a jinx attached to its front cover for years. And in 2002, the magazine confessed to having found 913 verifiable instances where the featured athlete or team suffered a demonstrable misfortune or decline. That was roughly 37 percent of the covers.
(For those keeping score at home, this will be the 15th Madden game – so the curse has stuck on roughly 29 percent of the games.)
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And other publishers, including Sega, Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates)-owned 989 Studios and other EA (ERTS: Research, Estimates) titles have seen their cover athletes lose luster once the game hit shelves. And it's usually just a short matter of time before idiots like me start writing about the curse. (Hey, I'm just getting an early start this year.)
Then again, maybe by coming (sort of) full circle, the Madden cover curse will come to an end. For the sake of the athletes' health, that'd be nice. But it would sure take away a fun annual story.
Morris, an admitted Falcons fan, is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.