Did 'Madden 12' snub Mannings, Brady?

If there truly is a "Madden" curse, perhaps it's not reserved for the player who appears on the video game's cover each year.

Maybe the real curse is in choosing him.

"It's very polarizing," said Anthony Stevenson, senior product manager for EA Sports, the game's manufacturer. "No matter what we do, half the people will be really, really happy, and half the people will hate it."

Not even turning the process over to the people will solve EA Sports' annual problem. For the first time in the game's 23 years, fans can vote for their favorite team to be on the "Madden NFL 12" cover.

A representative for each of the 32 clubs has been seeded in a single-elimination tournament. A weeklong vote will be held for each round until a champion is announced April 27 on ESPN. Fans also can participate in a March Madness-style bracket challenge to predict the outcome.

Funzo democracy at work, right?

Turns out, folks aren't entirely thrilled with the individual nominees. Reigning MVP Tom Brady and perennial fan favorite Peyton Manning aren't in the field. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers are represented by offensive tackles. The Seattle Seahawks' option isn't a player at all.

One of the rumors making the rounds is that unusual nominees were required because some stars declined an invitation, that they were afraid of the so-called "Madden" curse.

Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Vince Young and Brett Favre are among the supposedly doomed honorees.

Stevenson doesn't buy the connection, although fans have started Facebook campaigns for their favorite players not to get votes.

"People do believe there's a curse with Sports Illustrated covers or 'Madden' covers," Stevenson said. "As an NFL player, you cannot believe in that. If you believe in something like that, then you concede when you step on the field, and something bad happens it's not in your control.

"If you believe in a curse, you're probably in trouble. You're asking to get hurt. Athletes want to believe their well-being and their success or failure is 100 percent in their hands."

In fact, Stevenson sees the opposite of a curse when it comes to the "Madden" video-game franchise.

"All of our past cover athletes get together every year, and it's almost like the '72 Dolphins," Stevenson said. "They get together, and it's literally a fraternity."

This year's pledge period is a tournament bracket.

Stevenson called Thursday to explain why a few of the more interesting nominees were chosen.

On the decision to nominate New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead instead of Brady:

"Tom Brady has been there and done that, and certainly he's very deserving of a 'Madden' cover. But Danny Woodhead is such a unique story people fell in love with. He was on 'Hard Knocks.' We followed the emotional cut from the New York Jets. We know Rex Ryan didn't want to let him go. And then to see that division rival pick him up and how integral he was to that Patriots offense ... if you wanted to put a campaign around him from cut to cover, that's just tough to pass up. Everybody loves an underdog."

On choosing the 12th Man for the Seahawks:

"It's the only team that doesn't have an actual player. It's the 12th Man, and the simplest explanation I can give for that is to see the Saints-Seahawks playoff game. That's really all you need to know. They have this unique fan element to it. The 12th Man is legit."

On bypassing Manning for Dwight Freeney for the Indianapolis Colts:

"Like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning is justified to be on the cover any year. But it almost feels that while [Manning] had a very good year, it wasn't his best year. Statistically, it probably was his least successful year in the last five or six. To do it this year seemed a little bit off.

"Dwight Freeney is one of the most feared defenders in the league. We just thought this was something Dwight Freeney could get excited about and get behind and be a brand ambassador."

On choosing the Green Bay Packers' nominee, Aaron Rodgers:

"Green Bay was really difficult. Clay Matthews is a very compelling personality right now. That was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, if you win Super Bowl MVP, you're going to get the nod. But it was a struggle."

On the New York Giants' decision:

"There's Eli Manning. There's Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end we went with Hakeem Nicks because I felt like he's really the game-changer on that team. He's an up-and-coming wide receiver. I don't think anybody would be shocked if he was a top-three wide receiver at the end of next season. I thought he was fresh blood that would be very interesting."

On selecting left tackle Jake Long over a Dolphins skill-position player such as receiver Brandon Marshall:

"Jake Long's play on the field speaks for itself. But having that lineman -- along with [Carolina Panthers tackle] Jordan Gross -- is something we've never had. We wanted to give fans options. If there wasn't an absolutely obvious choice, and for the Dolphins there wasn't, why not give fans an opportunity to vote for an offensive lineman?"

Controversial nominees only help in getting fans enthused about the process.

In addition to creating buzz for the product, the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament provides a distraction from an otherwise depressing time for the NFL.

"We thought it was really important to give our fans something to be excited about, put a positive spin on the NFL offseason," Stevenson said. "We're making a concerted effort to engage our fans and let them know that there's still going to be a new, innovating game coming out in August. And, if anything, football fans and 'Madden' fans can take solace in that.

"'Madden' potentially could help fill a void this year. Just because Tom Brady can't lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl doesn't mean you can't. You can still do that in 'Madden' and get your football fix."