Peyton Hillis, a running back from the 5-11 Cleveland Browns, is on the cover of Madden 2012. I love democracy.
The Madden cover has been a jinx every other year. Amidst huge expectations, there has been disappointment. From Eddie George’s career decline in 2001 to Troy Polamalu’s knee injury in 2009, the video game cover is littered with sad stories. After appearing on the cover in 2004, Michael Vick broke his leg and then was arrested for dog fighting.
But Hillis is such an unexpected cover boy that I suggest the jinx is going to work in reverse this year. He is going to have a monster year.
Hillis, who a lot of people are writing off as a one-year wonder, is just getting started and the Browns are about to turn the proverbial corner into playoff contention. Yes, the Cleveland Browns are going to compete in the AFC North this year.
Colt McCoy is about to develop into a very good quarterback, and he is going to rely on Hillis as the quintessential cold weather running back. Despite a case of fumble-itis, Hillis has tremendous hands as a receiver and his running tends to get stronger as the game goes on.
His running style is very “lunchbucket Cleveland” and his production gives this old Leroy Kelly fan goosebumps.
But Hillis’ story reminds me a bit of Terrelle Davis, a sixth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos who emerged out of nowhere to go to the Hall of Fame. Hills was drafted in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos, but he was traded for Brady Quinn, who backs up Tim Tebow, who backs up Kyle Orton, who led the 4-12 Denver Broncos last year.
Hillis last year ran for 1,177 yards, 11 touchdowns and a 4.4 yards per carry average. He also caught 61 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Is this guy on his way to the Hall of Fame? Well, it’s a little early for that. But I think his production and a young, West Coast offense being installed in Cleveland are a perfect fit for his talents.
But Hillis is more than his statistics. His play defined a city and a fan base and now it defines a video game. Jinx? Hey, I am a Browns fan. I once cheered for a team owned by Art Modell. Jinxes don’t scare me.