Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III might go down in history as the NFL’s answer to Magic and Bird. Pundits debated who should be drafted first, experts are arguing over who should be Rookie of the Year, the two quarterbacks could be battling each other over championships for years, and in a few months, fans might actually be voting between the two young stud signal callers over who should win the coveted – and/or cursed -- spot on the cover of “Madden NFL 14.”
But would they even accept the title? Recent victims to the fabled Madden curse include Peyton Hillis, whose career has never quite recovered from his surprise win in “Madden 12,” to Calvin Johnson, whose statistics keep rising, even if his team’s win total is nowhere near what it was just a Cinderella season ago. Factor in a history of injuries (Troy Polamalu), arrests (Mike Vick), and downright pitiful play (Vince Young) in the ensuing months and years after being named to the cover, and you have to wonder if the Madden cover curse is more than simply superstition.
In fact, when asked recently by ESPN Playbook if he’d ever want to be on the cover of “Madden,” RG3 was even a bit more hesitant than I anticipated.
“I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe in curses, but I think our fans would be highly upset if I got on the ‘Madden’ cover,” he said. “I’ll tackle that issue when it comes up.”
Sorry, man, but the issue is up, and it’s already time to speak about what you would rather leave unspoken. Then again, while RG3 and Luck are the hottest candidates at the moment, they’re not the only ones who will be vying for that big check from EA Sports and their own cover shoot complete with cheerleaders and adoring fans.
Taking a look at how the season stacks up so far, here are ten players who have a great shot at winding up on the front of the box, whether there’s another cover vote or if EA Sports makes the official decision themselves early next year.
10. Bears CB Charles Tillman: 50-1
“Peanut” is a turnover machine, and he’s changing the way defensive players are attacking the ball during a tackle. I’m a sucker for defensive players on the box already, but maybe if EA Sports adds a variation to the Hit Stick where you can hold the trigger while slamming the right analog stick to punch at the ball during a tackle, Tillman would be the perfect guy on the cover to convey the new controls.
9. QBs Peyton Manning/Tom Brady: 35-1
Think about this for a second: There have been six quarterbacks on the cover of Madden since 2001, and neither Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, arguably the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation, have had the honor. Even crazier is that Manning was the cover athlete for Microsoft’s “NFL Fever” and Brady was on the cover of “NFL GameDay,” so it’s not like they’re opposed to being video game spokespeople. Not sure what the hang-up is here (as Deion sings, “must be the money”), but I’d love to at least have them in the discussion. Other than becoming cursed and maybe losing your career to freak injury, what is there to worry about?
8. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin 25-1
From Megatron to Muscle Hamster, I dig the transition from the best nickname in sports to one of the worst (hey, Martin doesn’t like it either). Martin is a back who has plenty of “Madden” moments throughout his rookie season, and he has the highlight package to make him an ideal back in the game. If he played in New York, he might have this thing won.
7. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson: 15-1
Peterson has long been one of the greatest virtual players in the history of sports video games, and his comeback this season from a horrifying knee injury has been nothing short of miraculous. Nothing would make the comeback more complete than his rightful spot on the cover of “Madden” … unless, of course, he reinjures the knee running after Paul Rudd during the commercial shoot.
6. Lions WR Calvin Johnson: 10-1
Picking the right cover is about creating a certain amount of buzz around the athlete in order to help hype up the game. How about the first ever back-to-back cover starring the same player to stir the pot? The Lions have struggled this season, and many in Detroit would like to blame the curse over the coaching staff, but if anything, Megatron leads the league in receiving while being on the cover. Besides, Marshall Faulk ended up on two covers (not in consecutive years), and he’s still walking around fine (and in the Hall of Fame). Maybe a double dose of curse actually flips into some type of blessing. We need to test this theory.
5. Texans DE J.J. Watt: 8-1
Would love to see an increased ability to swat down passes as a defensive lineman in “Madden 14.” It’s a delicate balance in gameplay, because if you pump this up too much, it’s going to be ridiculous and make the passing game a mess. But if you’re able to highlight guys like Watt more in the game, it would make them more valuable in those fantasy Connected Careers drafts.
4. Ravens RB Ray Rice: 6-1
Hey diddle-diddle, Ray Rice up the middle. If that 4th and 29 miracle by Rice doesn’t have “Madden” glitch written all over it, I don’t know what does. Watch the pursuit angles of the San Diego defenders on that play and tell me it doesn’t look like the old Genesis days where mindless drones would form a train, running after where the runner was, and not where he was actually going.
3. 49ers DE Aldon Smith: 4-1
The NFL’s best pass rusher, Aldon Smith is a video game defender come to life for the 49ers, running down quarterbacks like the kid has discovered the ability of turbo in real life. 99 problems, but a sack ain’t one.
2. Colts QB Andrew Luck: 2-1
It’s crazy to think the Colts let a legend go to draft Luck, and they actually made the right call. Luck makes playing as the Colts in “Madden” fun again, as the rookie is not only accurate with his passes, but defenders (both virtual and in real life) continue to underestimate his running ability and athleticism. Throw in the fact that he already appeared in the EA Sports “FIFA 13” commercial, and I can see a smooth transition to the cover of “Madden.”
1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III: Even
No player has ever jumped from the cover of “NCAA Football” to the cover of “Madden” in consecutive seasons, but RG3 stands to be the first. He’s the No. 1jersey seller, he’s must-see TV, he’s the most exciting player in the NFL, and he’s one of the most unstoppable players in “Madden” thanks to his combination of arm strength and breakaway speed. Sorry, RG3, I know you don’t want your fans to suffer through the curse, but it’s a fate that at this point, at least, looks to be inevitable.
On the cusp: Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Von Miller, Aaron Rodgers