Oh, how we love our superstitions. But if someone laughs at you when you mention the Madden Curse, don't take that dismissal sitting down. The list of victims of Madden cover misfortune is just way too long -- so long that we now celebrate a cover boy for merely turning in a mediocre season.
That's the thing with Madden's curse: It doesn't just portend a modest decline. It wields the power to eviscerate careers. Heck, Barry Sanders retired from football just one month after being named a Madden cover boy. He knew what was coming.
Well, Madden NFL 17 is being released Tuesday with Patriots star Rob Gronkowski as the cover boy, so here's a look back at some of the video game's greatest victims through the years. Caution: What you're about to read may be too graphic for the eyes of young children.
Vince Young, Tennessee Titans
For a while there, it seemed like Vince Young could be the dual-threat defense-destroyer we all wanted. Then came his appearance on the Madden 08 cover. Young pulled his quad, missed a game and began a downward spiral that quickly gained momentum. The following season, he was moved to the Titans bench. In 2010, the team released him. He spent one more season with Philadelphia, but by 2011 he was out of the league for good.
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
After an inspired run to the Super Bowl, McNabb was supposed to lead the Eagles all the way. But his Madden 06 cover put those possibilities to bed. McNabb suffered a season-ending injury in Week 10, the team finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs, and Philadelphia never put together a better team with McNabb than the ones the franchise enjoyed pre-cover.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
All in all, Drew Brees has made it out just fine. He's got a Super Bowl ring, he's had a long, glorious NFL career, and he'll leave behind a great legacy in New Orleans. His Madden cover appearance will not be part of that legacy. Coming off the Saints' Super Bowl win, Brees had a down year, throwing 22 interceptions and quarterbacking New Orleans to a playoff loss to a team with a losing record. Since then, the Saints have seemed to get a half-step worse every year. The Super Bowl win now feels distant.
Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks
His appearance on the Madden cover spelled the end of Alexander's long run of dominance. The former rushing title holder broke his foot, missing six games, and was held to 896 rushing yards that season. The next year was even worse: He played in 13 games but was far less productive, amassing just 716 yards and five touchdowns. After four more games with Washington, he called it a career. Alexander was a great running back in the prime of his career, but the Madden cover marked the end of that era.
Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers
Hearst was the first NFL player ever featured on Madden, after several years of its namesake, John Madden, enjoying the spotlight. The year was 1999, and Hearst was coming off a career-best year, running for 1,570 yards for San Francisco. And in fairness, the start of his 1999 season was incredible as well. But in the NFL playoffs, the wheels came off the bus: Hearst broke his ankle, and he wound up missing two entire seasons. He made a strong comeback years later, but two years of his prime were stolen, forever altering his legacy. And so began the Curse.
Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
The timing of this couldn't be any more stunning: On the very same day his Madden cover was released, Michael Vick broke his leg. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is. He missed 11 games that season, and yes, he came back just fine. But come on. The same day.
Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings
What a tale of two careers: For a while there, Daunte Culpepper looked like almost superhuman, with his rocket arm, his strong running and his 250-pound frame to bowl over defenders. No one batted an eye when he got the Madden cover. And then this happened: 23 interceptions, and far worse, 23 fumbles. That happened in just 11 games, too, before Culpepper suffered a season-ending injury. He kept on quarterbacking for a while, but he was a shell of the Culpepper that graced the Madden cover.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Sweet Moses, what a disaster. In 10 years, nobody under the age of 25 will even know the name Peyton Hillis -- and if they do, it'll most likely be due to his status as the most cursed of all Madden cover boys. Hillis earned the Madden cover thanks to EA Sports' decision to open up fan voting to choose the 2011 representative. Hillis rode to victory on the backs of rapid Browns fans.
True to Browns form, the choice was an abject failure. Hillis only played in 10 games that season, amassing a mere 587 yards and three touchdowns. He signed with Kansas City after that season and almost literally disappeared. In his last two seasons, with the New York Giants, he totaled just 99 carries. His career ended in 2014, at just 28 years old.
He ended his NFL career with 2,832 rushing yards -- a stunningly low figure for someone appearing on the cover of Madden. By almost any measure you can dream up, no one was haunted by the curse more than Peyton Hillis.