Clues to the cover

Baseball season is in full swing, but it's never too early to start talking football -- and two big upcoming events are sure to get people excited for kickoff, even though it's still a few months away. Not only is the NFL Draft just around the corner, but Tuesday night will see the unveiling of the cover athlete for Madden NFL 08 -- the best-selling video game from EA SPORTS that will hit shelves in August, giving fans a chance to enjoy their pigskin action even before the real season begins.

As is typical, EA has been mum about the identity of the man chosen for the cover honor, but we do have a few clues in advance of the unveiling, which will occur on the Jimmy Kimmel Show on Tuesday night just after midnight. We know that Devin Hester, Chicago return-man extraordinaire, is the first player to ever achieve the maximum 100 Speed Rating in the game, and we've heard that Hester joined Titans QB Vince Young and New Orleans RB Reggie Bush to film a series of Madden commercials that are slated to run during the Draft.

Does this mean Hester is the front-runner? Not likely -- EA often will use several different athletes in their commercial campaigns, so it's no surprise they'd pick three of the hottest young talents in the game. Hester, meanwhile, is mainly a return specialist at this point, and EA typically likes to go with offensive players. That could mean that Bush -- last year's NCAA Football 07 cover athlete -- or Young are candidates, or the main man could be someone like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, the two top choices.

Whoever the choice is, they'll have to contend with the famous "Madden Curse," which has seen several of the cover athletes suffer either major injuries or sub-par seasons in the year immediately following their appearance on the cover -- just ask Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Michael Vick, or a few of the other recent cover guys. When you talk to the athletes themselves, they shrug off any ideas of a "curse," and to our knowledge, no player has ever turned down a chance to be on the cover -- so they're not too concerned about the repercussions. Still, if the choice is Peyton Manning, for instance, somewhere in the back of his mind he has to be wondering -- is this going to mess up his chances for a Super Bowl repeat?

We'll know soon enough whether it's Manning, Brady, or one of the other front-runners when the cover is revealed on the Jimmy Kimmel Show Tuesday night. Until then, we'll monitor the continuing speculation and keep chanting our incantations to stave off the effects of the "Madden Curse."