The EA Sports Coverboy Curse Fact or Fiction?
EA Sports Coverboy Curse – Fact or Fiction?
by Tim Surette
Everyone wants to be on the cover of their own
sports video game. But does gracing the cover of an EA Sports title jeopardize
a professional athlete’s season?
fan worth his mettle knows about the Sports Illustrated jinx. For those who
don’t, it’s a simple superstition that has often proven itself to be more
natural than supernatural. After appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated,
a high-profile athlete’s performance in the following weeks becomes more worthy
of Sports Devastated. The plummet can range from a minor blip in stats
to falling off the face of the Earth, but it exists, at least in the eyes of
many sports fans with an attention to detail. Tony Mandarich, touted by SI as
the best offensive line prospect EVER, became the biggest bust in NFL draft
history shortly after appearing on the cover of SI’s NFL draft preview. Nomar
Garciaparra announced he had a split tendon in his right wrist just days after
gracing the cover of SI in 2001. He nearly missed the entire season. Even
recently, Ken Griffey Jr. struggled to hit his 500th homerun, belting
only one round-tripper in eleven days, after hitting four ding-dongs in just six
days. Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito’s mug just last week appeared in the
very bottom corner of SI in a mere one-inch image. His reward? Back-to-back
losses, the most painful being a sterling seven-inning, one earned run effort
against the cross-bay rival Giants. Need more evidence? One day after grinning
on the cover of this week’s SI, Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez slugged two home
runs, but lost a PAINFUL game to division rivals New York Yankees. With a
rivalry as heated as theirs, Ramirez and Boston would rather the Domincan strike
out five times and put a W on the board than lose in extra innings the way they
The coverboy athlete jinx does not belong to SI alone, no siree. Sports video games have equally cursed the lucky jocks that live out boyhood dreams of having their own video game. Electronic Arts is the main culprit, particularly the ever-popular Madden Football series. Thinking about hitting the weight room in hopes of getting a cover of a future video game? You’d better think twice after these examples:
Madden 2002 – Daunte Culpepper, QB Minnesota Vikings
After a rookie season that was off the charts, EA chose Culpepper’s visage to spur sales. His 2000 season seemed to make the pigskin slinger a sure thing, but after appearing on the cover of Madden 2001, nearly every important statistical number dropped… far. Injuries and poor performance rounded out a disappointing season, and really began the EA cover curse.
Key stats before EA cover: Played a full 16 game season – threw for 3937 yards – 33 TDs and only 16 INTs.
Key stats during season of EA cover: Played only 11 games – threw for 2612 yards – a poor 14 TDs to 13 INTs.
Madden 2003 – Marshall Faulk, RB St. Louis Rams
Coveted by number-crunching fantasy football dorks everywhere, Marshall Faulk was the most dominant offensive player the previous three seasons to giving his likeness to EA. After a few MVP-caliber campaigns, Faulk’s offensive production stumbled and fumbled into one of the more disappointing seasons for one the NFL’s biggest stars. His digital likeness may have excelled on PS2s and Xboxes that year, but Faulk himself didn’t reach 1000 yards – the first time since 1996 – and was 23rd in the league in rushing yards.
Key stats before the EA cover: Four consecutive seasons of 1300+ yards rushing and 700+ yards receiving – back-to-back seasons of 20+ TDs, including 26 in 2000
Key stats during season of EA cover: Under 1000 yards for first time since 1996 – Only 10 TDs – Most fumbles since 1997 for one of the NFL’s stickiest set of hands
Madden 2004 – Michael Vick, QB Atlanta Falcons
The 2003 season was over before it even started for the Atlanta Falcons. In a preseason game, Michael Vick broke his leg in the “SNAP heard ‘round Atlanta”, forcing Atlanta football fans to become Atlanta Hawks fans… it was that bad. With highlight making Vick on the shelf, the Falcons mired in the NFC, finishing 5-11. The most talented player in football was a huge loss for not only Atlanta, but for ESPN and the NFL. Curse you, EA!
Key stats before the EA cover: 777 yards rushing – almost 3000 yards passing – countless highlights of Vick delivering ankle-shattering jukes
Key stats during season of EA cover: Only five games played – about 3000 hours of rehab – countless replays of Vick delivering his own leg-breaking move
Madden 2005 – Ray Lewis, LB Baltimore Ravens
EA may have shot themselves in the cleats with this one. Charged with (but acquitted of) murder in 2000, the hot-headed Lewis is known as an intense person both on and off the field. Perhaps EA said, “Screw it! We’re $^#%ed anyway” and picked Lewis based in his street cred. Only time will tell if the jinx continues, but don’t be surprised if Lewis gets audited, thrown in jail, and injured on the same night. Or worse – traded to the Chargers!
Triple Play 2002 – Luis Gonzalez, OF Arizona Diamondbacks
LuGo, the man who once had a piece of his used chewing gum sell for $10,000 online, got the cover of EA’s sub par baseball franchise in 2002. Following his breakout 2001 season in which he clubbed 57 homers with a Ruthian 142 RBIs, the D-Backs leftfielder fell back to earth the following season, right after appearing on the cover of Triple Play 2002. Chew on that.
Key stats before the EA cover: Hit 57 HRs when everyone was hitting 50 homeruns – Drove in 142 RBIs… 142! Batted .325, 40 points higher than his career average
Key stats during season of EA cover: Hit 28 HRs when everyone was still hitting 50 HRs – Batted .288… his, errr… career average
Triple Play 2003 – Randy Johnson, SP Arizona Diamondbacks and Miguel Tejada, SS Oakland Athletics
The dual cover featured one of the most dominant southpaws in history in Johnson and the reigning AL MVP in Tejada. The mullet-topped Johnson had seemingly won every Cy Young in the last decade before the jinx hit him like line drive comebacker. 2003 was a dismal season for Big Unit, cut in half by injury. His ERA nearly doubled, he had more losses than wins, and was devastating to fantasy baseballers everywhere (including myself) who relied on the lanky lefty to anchor their pitching staffs. Tejada didn’t have a major drop off in stats, but they did suffer a tad in 2003. He broke streaks of consecutive 30+ HR seasons, 110+ RBI seasons, and 100+ Run seasons. But the biggest hit came in the playoffs, when the normally garrulous Tejada and his A’s were silenced after they blew a 2-0 lead to the Red Sox (who cheated!), losing three straight games.
Key stats before the EA cover: Johnson – Five time Cy Young award winner – Career ERA under 3.00 – Winning percentage over 67% Tejada – MVP in 2002 – Three straight seasons of 100+ Runs, 110+ RBIs, and 30+ HRs
Key stats during season of EA cover: Johnson – An injury-shortened season, An ERA over 4.00, and a losing record for Johnson, one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. Tejada – Ousted from playoffs in painful fashion, even for the A’s – Thirty point drop in batting average
MVP Baseball 2004 – Albert Pujols, 1B St. Louis Cardinals
Everything seems to be going right for Pujols so far this season. His power and run-producing numbers are right up to speed, but his average is down over fifty points from last season. His first-place team is also surprising the National League Central by leading the heavily favored Chicago Cubs. Could this be the end of the jinx? If I were Pujols, I would stay plenty clear of abandoned mine shafts, too-cute groupies, and sushi. There is still plenty of season left, King Albert.
Fight Night 2004 – Roy Jones, Jr.
This man gained and lost weight more times than Oprah just to beat up guys in other weight divisions. He dominated every match he fought, even his one loss – a disqualification in a lopsided affair. You’re not supposed to hit your opponent when he’s already on the ground, Roy. Jones was used to making opponent’s faces go from Norman Rockwells to Picassos, blistering eyes, noses, and ears into new positions on the faces of helpless opponents. But in May of this year, Jones got un-prettied by Antonio Tarver on a single punch, handing Jones his first real loss of his unmarred career. It’s the worst thing to happen to Roy Jones, Jr. since he released his rap CD, Round One: The Album.
NHL 2004 – Dany Heatley, RW Atlanta Thrashers
All the previous jinxes pale in comparison to what appearing on the cover of NHL 2004 (although he could have also appropriately appeared on the cover of Need for Speed) would do to hockey superstar Dany Heatley. Touted as one of a handful of players who could save the struggling NHL, Heatley crashed his Ferrari into a wall reportedly going faster than 80 miles per hour. And before you think that totaling his Ferrari was the bad part, read on. In addition to suffering near season-ending injuries (Heatley would return late in the season), Heatley has to live with the responsibility of killing his passenger and teammate, 25-year old Dan Snyder. The death shook up the league, and still reverberates to this day.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of the EA Sports coverboy curse is the lack of NBA Live jinxes. Kevin Garnett, Steve Francis, Jason Kidd, and Vince Carter all actually had better seasons (or comparable) during their cover year. What sets them apart from the other sports? My answer - between sexual assault charges, marijuana possession, and chauffeur shootings, the NBA is jinx-proof – just suiting up for a NBA team is a jinx waiting to happen.