Today’s post is about the Madden curse associated with NFL, and some possible mechanisms for it, if any, but first, a little background on Madden and the Madden curse. Madden is one of the most popular sports games sold in the world, it is the official video game of the NFL and is produced every year by EA sports™. The game is named after the great John Madden, who is a hall of fame player and coach, as well as a commentator, one of the most famous players ever. It has been sold since 1993 on various platforms and has sold over 85 million copies. Every year, a succesful player from the previous year is selected to be shown on the front of the box, on the disk, the cover screen, everywhere. It is a big deal to be on the Madden cover, both for good and bad reasons.
The Madden curse pertains to that video game. The Madden curse is the belief that any player who is shown on the front of Madden NFL is going to have an injury or suffer some other terrible outcomes. While it is true that about half of the athletes on the cover have experienced downfalls of some sort, this is due mainly to a few reasons.
The first, and often most talked about reason why there appears to be a madden curse, is regression to the mean. Any player who features on the cover of madden has probably had the best season of their career, they got picked out of thousands of players, so they have had a pretty stellar year. It is expected therefore that the player probably won’t go as well the next year. If you break the passing yards record one year, odds are against doing it again next year.
We see this in all sports, when Usain Bolt broke the record for the 100 m sprint, nobody expected him to break it again the next time he ran. He didn’t. But nobody attributed this to the fact that he got in all of the papers the next day, they just said, “Well, you can’t expect him to break 2 records in a row”, and that was that. So we can’t just say it’s just regression to the mean, there must be something else psychological going on.
What makes the Madden curse different from Usain Bolt is that there is a lot of time and talk. When Usain Bolt broke the 100 m sprint record, it wasn’t long before his next run, a few days, maybe. That’s not enough time for a lot of hype to spread. In football, on the other hand, there is a break of about 5 months between the madden box being announced and the start of the season, and then another six months of playing time after that. That’s a long time for people to talk about the madden box, and a lot more time for the player to get injured or have a re-drawn contract or get cut or have a bed game of some sort. So there is huge magnification going on there. But there could still be more.
It could be that players are getting jealous of the madden cover superstar. Football is a rough, contact sport, and injuries do happen. There is also room for some bounty or targeting of players to go on, as we saw with the bounty system scandal surrounding the saints recently, so players could easily be going out for specific players to injure, or protect. If it’s a quarterback, then more linebackers will blitz him, he will be rushed with his throws more, he will get sacked or knocked down more often, and he won’t have a s good a game. If it’s a receiver, they will get double coverage manned up on them, so they will catch less passes, and get tackled more. If it’s a running back, linebackers will blitz. If it’s a defensive back, then quarterbacks will throw away from them so as not to get picked off, and they will be assigned better blockers.
The madden curse is yet another one of those superstitions which could have some possible real mechanisms, but which is really just a myth which continues on in society today.