ESPN.com users have spoken, and the face of Madden NFL 12 will be Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis.
Hillis was announced Wednesday as the winner of the fan vote, under way since March 21, on
"SportsNation" on ESPN2. In all, almost 13 million votes were cast -- including more than 1 million in the final.
The 10th-seeded Hillis overwhelmingly defeated Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, seeded third, garnering 66 percent of the vote in the final of the 32-player bracket to become the cover of this year's version of the popular NFL video game franchise. This is the first year fans were allowed to vote for the game's cover.
After he was named the winner, Hillis said he was "excited" and he didn't think he had a shot against Vick, whom he has "always looked up to."
Hillis acknowledged the support he has received from Browns fans and said: "I just want to tell them thanks and I'm going to play my best for them."
Vick said he was happy for Hillis and was proud of how far he made it in the voting.
"My fans, they stuck in there," Vick said. "I made it this far and thats a plus for me."
Hillis upset higher seeds throughout the vote. Hillis beat Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (the No. 7 seed); Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (No. 2); Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (No. 6); and No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers to get to the final.
Hillis was buoyed by an online campaign that included front-page treatment on the Browns' website, as well as ongoing Twitter and Facebook campaigns by the team.
In an ESPN.com chat earlier Wednesday with Hillis and Vick, the Browns running back said he's not afraid of the "Madden Curse." Several players have been injured or had down years the season immediately after being on the game's cover -- including Vick, who suffered a broken leg before the 2003 season (Vick was on the cover of Madden NFL 2004, which was released in August 2003) and missed 11 of the Atlanta Falcons' games that year.
"For people to believe in this so-called curse, I can't wait to prove people wrong," he said. "From what I believe and where I am in my spiritual life, it would be good to prove them wrong in that sense."
Both Hillis and Vick said they regularly play the Madden game.
Vick, who was attempting to become the first player to appear on the Madden cover twice, also used the Internet to boost his candidacy, with his official website redirecting fans to the ESPN.com Madden vote. To advance to the final, Vick defeated Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware (No. 14 seed); Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson (No. 6 seed); San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (No. 7); and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (No. 9).
In 2010, Hillis became the first Browns running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season since 2008. He finished with 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and became known for his battering-ram style, shedding tacklers with hard running.
In his ESPN.com chat, Hillis said he doesn't believe other running backs will try copying his style of running.
"When I play the game, I feel that I need to put it all into it," he said. "I don't care if I play two or five years. I just want to put it all into it. I don't think players will pick that up, they want longevity."
Vick was voted Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year last season after missing two seasons while serving a prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring, and playing sparingly in 2009.
Vick led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and the NFC East title after replacing an injured Kevin Kolb after Week 1. Despite missing three games with an injury, Vick had his best season. He set career highs in yards passing (3,018), touchdowns passing (21), touchdowns rushing (9), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2).
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.