Covering the blues

It's no surprise that Mike Vick broke his leg.

Even before he took his first preseason snap he was in trouble. Big trouble.

Sure, the Atlanta quarterback has the arm, the speed and the can't-coach-that mojo of a future Hall of Famer. And granted, his Falcons look like a much-improved club.

Problem is, Vick also serves as the coverboy for this year's edition of Madden football

And as far as bad omens go, that's somewhere between crossing a black cat and finding a severed horse's head nestled in your bed.

Never mind Sports Illustrated. For the most insidious cover jinx in sports, look no farther than EA Sports' blockbuster football franchise.

In the three years that the game has featured an actual NFL player on its cover -- as opposed to Big John himself, and maybe some generic football art -- the Madden cover has ensured two things.

1) A hefty endorsement check.
2) Near-total football ruin.

But don't take our word for it. Ask Tennessee running back Eddie George. Three years ago, his Titans were coming off a near-miss in the Super Bowl and favored to make a return trip.

After George appeared on the cover of Madden 2001,
however, Tennessee was upset in the AFC playoffs at
home by the Baltimore Ravens.

Hampered by injuries -- and perhaps shaken by a
concussive hit from Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis --
George suffered his worst-ever professional season last year, rushing for just 939 yards and averaging
just three yards per carry.

For Madden 2002, it was Minnesota quarterback Daunte
Culpepper's turn to feel the hurt. Following a Pro
Bowl campaign in 2001 that saw Culpepper throw for 33
touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards while leading the
Vikings to the NFC title game, the signal-caller
signed on for Madden.

The Vikings promptly dropped to 5-11, while Culpepper
struggled his way to a season-ending knee injury. Last
season, the quarterback was still in throes of a
post-Madden stupor, tossing 23 interceptions and
posting a 75.3 quarterback rating.

Likewise, St. Louis running back and Madden 2003
coverboy Marshall Faulk entered last season as the
featured weapon on a Rams squad expected to atone for
a Super Bowl upset loss to the New England Patriots.
Instead, the Rams finished 7-9 -- and Faulk rushed for
less than 1,000 yards in an injury-riddled season.

The upshot? Vick should have thought twice before
drinking the Madden Kool-Aid. In fact, athletes in
every sport would do well to avoid video game cover
endorsements. Because Madden, quite frankly, is far
from alone when it comes to auguring the worst:

Coverboy: Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson.

Pre-Cover: Behind the diminutive Iverson's MVP
season, Sixers advanced to the NBA Finals and even
stole a game from the then-mighty Los Angeles Lakers.

Post-Cover: Arrested on 14 felony and misdemeanor
charges, including assault, terroristic threats and
weapons offenses. The charges were later thrown out of
court, but not before Iverson became the focal point
of a three-ring media circus. Oh, and the Sixers were
overtaken by the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern

Coverboy: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss

Pre-Cover: Set an NFL record with 5,396 yards
receiving in his first four pro seasons; scored more
touchdowns since his 1998 debut than anyone except St.
Louis' Faulk; signed an eight-year, $75 million

Post-Cover: Arrested and spent a night in jail for
allegedly pushing a female traffic officer a
half-block with his car (police also found a small
amount of marijuana in the vehicle); scored just seven
touchdowns and averaged 12.7 yards per catch last
season, the lowest numbers of his pro career.

Coverboy: Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher

Pre-Cover: In 2000, named NFL Defensive Rookie of the
Year; in 2001, made the Pro Bowl and anchored a Bears
team that finished 13-3 while leading the league in
fewest points allowed.

Post-Cover: Urlacher continued to dominate, but
injury-riddled Bears slid to 4-12 and ranked 25th in
points allowed.

NFL Gameday '97
Coverboy: Dallas Cowboys fullback Darryl "Moose"
(Um, why not Jay Novacek?)

Pre-Cover: With Johnston's hard-nosed blocking and
clutch backfield receiving leading the way -- well,
that and the big three of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin
and Emmitt Smith -- the Cowboys captured a Super Bowl
under renegade coach Barry Switzer, nearly proving
that Jerry Jones really can do it all by himself.

Post-Cover: Staggered by Irvin's legal woes and the
"white house" scandal, the 'Boys lost to the upstart
Carolina Panthers in the playoffs. The Dallas dynasty
never recovered.

NFL Gameday 2000
Coverboy: Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis

Pre-Cover: Gave John Elway what he always needed -- a
running game. Davis, the 1998 MVP, amassed 36
touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards rushing over two
seasons as the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls.

Post-Cover: Elway retired; Davis blew out his knee
and missed 12 games; the Broncos finished 6-10, last
in the AFC West. The injury-prone Davis never again
rushed for only 1,200 yards the next three seasons.

ESPN NFL Prime Time 2002
Coverboy: Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James

Pre-Cover: Won his second straight NFL rushing title
and broke Eric Dickerson's franchise record by running
for 1,709 yards; Colts went 10-6 before losing in the
AFC Wild Card Game.

Post-Cover: Suffered a season-ending knee injury six
games into the 2001 season; Colts finished 6-10. A
tentative-looking James returned for 14 games last
year, rushing for 989 yards.

ESPN NBA 2Night (2000)
Coverboy: Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning

Pre-Cover: Established himself as the second-best
center in the NBA -- behind Shaquille O'Neal -- and won back-to-back Defensive
Player of the Year awards. Won a gold medal at the
2000 Olympics.

Post-Cover: Diagnosed with a kidney disorder and
missed 69 games in 2000-2001; has played sparingly

NCAA Football '98
Coverboy: Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel

Pre-Cover: Won Heisman Trophy after throwing for
3,625 yards and 39 touchdowns and leading the Gators
to the national title. Drafted in the fourth round by
the New Orleans Saints.

Post-Cover: Started six games in three seasons with
the Saints, tossing 16 interceptions and nine
touchdowns; spent two years on the bench in Green Bay
and Chicago; joined college coach Steve Spurrier in
Washington last season, where he threw six picks in
four starts and wasn't allowed to wear his No. 7 (a
number that once belonged to 'Skins great Joe

NCAA Football 2000
Coverboy: Texas running back Ricky Williams

Pre-Cover: Finished his Longhorn career as the owner
of 20 NCAA rushing records, including most rushing
yards (6,279), rushing touchdowns (72) and highest
average per carry (6.2). New Orleans coach Mike Ditka
traded away his entire draft to land Williams in the
first round.

Post-Cover: Wore a wedding dress for an ill-advised
ESPN magazine cover shoot; signed foolhardy,
incentive-laden rookie contract on advice of agent
Leland Hardy; suffered social anxiety disorder and a
series of injuries over his first two seasons, missing
10 games while averaging less than 4.0 yards a carry.

NCAA Football 2002
Coverboy: Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke

Pre-Cover: College football feel-good story abandoned
a minor-league baseball career to become the
Seminoles' all-time leading passer, winning the
Heisman Trophy and a national championship en route.

Post-Cover: Second-oldest player to be drafted by an
NFL team since 1970 posted a 62.0 quarterback rating
in his rookie year with the Carolina Panthers; last
season, played in six games and only started one,
throwing three interceptions. Now buried behind former
Saints backup Jake Delhomme on the Panthers depth

NBA Inside Drive 2002

Coverboy: Toronto Raptors guard Vince Carter

Pre-Cover: After winning Rookie of the Year in
1998-99, Carter won Olympic gold the next summer,
posterizing Frederic Weis along the way. In 2000-2001,
Carter was named All-NBA Second Team and led the
Raptors to within a buzzer-beating miss of the conference finals.

Post-Cover: Has seen his toughness and desire
questioned after injuries forced him to miss much of
the last two seasons for an underachieving Raptors

NBA Courtside 2002
Coverboy: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

Pre-Cover: Former high school superstar became
arguably the NBA's best all-around player, helping the
Lakers win three straight titles. Made millions
endorsing Sprite, McDonald's and, um, Nutella spread.

Post-Cover: Do you really have to ask?

FIFA Major League Soccer 2001
Coverboy: D.C. United forward Ben Olsen

Pre-Cover: Won MLS Rookie of the Year award in 1998
and MLS Cup MVP honors in 1999.

Post-Cover: Missed entire 2001 season after
fracturing his ankle while on loan to English First
Division club Nottingham Forest; United, a one-time
MLS dynasty, has stunk ever since.

NCAA College Basketball 2K3
Coverboy: Duke point guard Jay Williams

Pre-Cover: Won NCAA title, then captured National
Player of the Year honors the next season; picked No.
2 overall in 2002 NBA draft.

Post-Cover: Struggled through up-and-down rookie
season; pro career is in jeopardy following a June
motorcycle crash.

NCAA College Football 2K3
Coverboy: Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch

Pre-Cover: Option maestro won Heisman Trophy (sound
familiar?) and led overachieving Cornhuskers to
national title game, becoming only the third player in
NCAA history to amass 3,000 rushing yards and 4,000
passing yards in a career. Also tied an NCAA record by
running, throwing for and catching a touchdown in a
single game.

Post-Cover: Drafted by St. Louis Rams as a wide
receiver, he quit during training camp; returned to
the Green Bay Packers this summer to try and earn a
backup quarterback spot, then quit again.

NCAA Gamebreaker 2001
Coverboy: Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne

Pre-Cover: Bulled his way to an NCAA regular season-record 6,397 career rushing yards and won the
Heisman Trophy. Including bowl games, Dayne is the
first college player to top 7,000 rushing yards in a

Post-Cover: Overshadowed by Tiki Barber, has rushed
for just 1,888 yards and a 3.5 yard-per-carry average
in three seasons with the New York Giants.

Smash Court Tennis Pro
Cover players: Martina Hingis, Lindsay
Davenport, Anna Kournikova, Monica Seles, Pete
Sampras, Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Pre-Cover: A who's who of professional tennis in the
1990s, with dozens of Grand Slams between them. Well,
not Anna K. But frankly, who's counting?

Post-Cover: Hingis retired with foot injuries;
Sampras lost to someone named George Bastl in the
second round at Wimbledon and is practically retired;
Rafter fathered a child and is also all-but-retired;
Davenport and Seles are nearing retirement after a
series of foot injuries; Kafelnikov almost retired
after suffering a varicose vein in his leg; Kournikova
might retire with bad back. But hey, Andre's still
doing great!

NCAA Final Four 2001
Coverboy: Michigan State point guard Mateen Cleaves

Pre-Cover: Gritty guard led Spartans to 2000 NCAA
title and was snapped up by Detroit with the No. 14
pick in the 2000 NBA draft; State coach Tom Izzo even
named his adopted son Steve "Mateen" Izzo in Cleaves'

Post-Cover: As a rookie, averaged just 16.3 minutes
per game; traded to Sacramento, where he's buried
behind Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson.

NCAA Final Four 2002
Coverboy: North Carolina guard Joseph Forte

Pre-Cover: Broke Sam Perkins' UNC freshman scoring
record; became only the fourth sophomore in Carolina
history to earn consensus first-team All-America
honors, joining Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse and
J.R. Reid.

Post-Cover: Traded from Boston to Seattle and has
played in just 25 games over two pro seasons,
averaging 1.2 points per game; in May, was issued an
arrest warrant after being accused of punching a man
in the face during a pickup basketball game; also, the
Tar Heels have pretty much fallen into the hoops

Madden NFL 2000 (for the N64)
Coverboy: A player who looks suspiciously like
Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders (pictured
shedding a tackle in the upper right-hand corner of
the box, next to John Madden's head).

Pre-Cover: Most electrifying runner in the game looked like a lock to eventually break Walter
Payton's then-NFL record for career rushing yards --
sooner rather than later.

Post-Cover: Sanders walked away from football before
the 1999 season. Give the man credit: He knew how to
get out while the getting was good.

NCAA Football 2004
Coverboy: USC quarterback Carson Palmer

Pre-Cover: Won Heisman Trophy; helped restore USC's
faded football glory.

Post-Cover: Selected No. 1 in the NFL Draft. By the
Cincinnati Bengals.

Patrick Hruby is a sportswriter with the Washington
Times and a contributor to ESPN.com's Page 2. You can
contact him at phrub@yahoo.com.