Prior to 1999, every annual installment of the Madden NFL series primarily featured John Madden on its cover. In 1999, Electronic Arts selected Garrison Hearst to appear on the cover, and has since featured one of the league’s top players on every annual installment. Since then, certain players have experienced a decline in performance, usually due to an injury. For example, quarterback Michael Vick appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2004, and suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the 2004 season. In a similar example, running back Shaun Alexander, then the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, was featured on the cover of Madden NFL 2007, and sustained a foot injury that caused him to miss six starts. As a result, Alexander’s rushing statistics were substantially less than those from the previous season.
When asked about the “Madden Curse”, Chris Erb, the EA Sports director of marketing, commented, “I don't know that we believe in the curse. The players don't believe in the curse” Greg Pearson, a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, commented that the string of injuries that Madden cover athletes experience can be attributed to the physical-nature of football. Alexander himself has claimed, “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?". When Vince Young appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to officially announce that he would appear on the cover of Madden NFL 2008, he derided allegations of becoming the curse’s next victim, and stated, “I done prayed about it and we're gonna go home and try to get to the playoffs and try to get to the Super Bowl. We'll see what happens."(he's since been benched as starter) In 2007, GameSpot and CNBC reported that a large number of LaDainian Tomlinson's fans, who believed in the Madden Curse, were strongly opposed to EA Sports' initial decision to feature him on the 2008 cover, so much that a fan created SaveLTfromMadden.com to voice their disdain. Tomlinson eventually declined the offer, but stated it was solely due to contract negotiations.
Brett Favre graced the cover of Madden 2009. He is depicted on the cover in his uniform with the Green Bay Packers; however, he played the 2008 NFL season with the New York Jets. After going 8-3 to start the season, Favre apparently developed a then-undiagnosed shoulder injury, which resulted in the Jets losing four of their final five games, and missing the 2008 NFL playoffs.