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The Early Lead
Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 04/26/2012

Madden ‘13 cover: Can Calvin Johnson avoid the curse?


Strike a pose, Megatron. (Bill Haber - AP)
The annual process of selecting a cover boy for the latest version of the Madden video game gets more and more elaborate each year.

From fan polling to a 32 team NCAA tournament-style bracket to television campaigns, the folks at EA Sports have done their best to drag the process out as long as possible.

On Wednesday Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson narrowly edged Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and was awarded the “Madden NFL 13” cover on national television.

He looked genuinely excited as he was handed an ornately framed oversized cover. But with the threat of the infamous “Madden curse” still looming, should Johnson be excited or scared?

Over the last two seasons, the man the kids call “Megatron” has been nothing short of dominant. Last season, he led the NFL with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. And for the most part, Johnson has been durable and consistent during his five-year career. He’s missed just four regular season games during that span and has eclipsed 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns in three of the last four seasons.

Johnson garnered 52 percent of the more than 651,000 votes cast.

“Man, it’s great,” Johnson said during the announcement on ESPN’s “SportsNation.” “Just to see yourself of this Madden (cover) and seeing all the guys that have been on Madden? C’mon, man.”

But over the years players on the cover of the most popular NFL video game have seen lofty numbers evaporate and injuries spring up seemingly out of the blue. Here’s a quick look at how previous cover boys fared...

12 - Peyton Hillis — A year after rushing for a career-high 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, the bruising Browns’ back played in only 10 games and finished with just 587 yards and three scores. He signed with Kansas City in March.

In December, Hillis was already regretting his cover selection.

“No doubt about it, things haven’t worked to my favor this year,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “There’s a few things that happened that made me believe in curses. Ain’t no doubt about it.”

11: Drew Brees — Fresh off a Super Bowl triumph, Brees boosted his passing yardage total (4,388 to 4,620 yards) and only saw a minimal drop-off in touchdowns (34 to 33) and completion percentage (70.6 to 68.1). Curse avoided? Not quite. The Saints were bounced in the wild card round of the playoffs by the 7-9 Seahawks.

10: Troy Polamalu/Larry Fitzgerald — Pittsburgh’s big play safety played in only five games due to an MCL injury. One year after winning the Super Bowl, the Steelers missed the playoffs. Fitzgerald caught 97 balls for 1,092 yards — his lowest total in three seasons — but upped his touchdown total to 13. The Cardinals won the NFC West but lost to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs.

09: Brett Favre — In his one and only season with the Jets, Favre started strong and sputtered down the stretch, throwing as many touchdowns (22) as interceptions, including five in the final two weeks as New York missed the playoffs.

08: Vince Young — The second-year quarterback threw nearly twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (nine). The team finished 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Young played only three games the following season.

07: Shaun Alexander — The league’s defending rushing champion played only 10 games because of injury and failed to eclipse 1,000 yards (896) and 10 touchdowns (seven) for the first time in six seasons.


Donovan McNabb’s cover year was a disaster. (Tony Gutierrez - AP)
06: Donovan McNabb — Fresh off an NFC title and NFC offensive player of the year award, McNabb played only nine games and finished the year on injured reserve with a groin injury. A public clash with wide receiver Terrell Owens overshadowed an Eagles season that ended with a 6-10 record.

05: Ray Lewis — The heart and soul of Baltimore’s defense had a mediocre season, posting 100 tackles and a single sack before an injury kept him out for the season finale. The Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

04: Michael Vick — Fractured his right fibula during a preseason game and missed the first 12 weeks of the season. He returned in Week 13 and started the team’s final four games.

03: Marshall Faulk — Snapped a string of five straight 1,000-yard seasons and managed only 10 total touchdowns while starting just 10 games because of injuries.

02: Daunte Culpepper — A year after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, made only 11 starts and had nearly as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (14).

01: Eddie George — The first player to grace the cover, George rushed for a career-high 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to All-Pro honors. One year after reaching the Super Bowl, the Titans lost in the second round of the playoffs.

Will Calvin Johnson buck the trend? Or should the Lions brace themselves for a drop-off from the best wide receiver in the NFL? If you’re a Lions fan, are you glad to see your guy get the recognition or terrified that it could be his downfall?

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By  |  11:09 AM ET, 04/26/2012

 
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