The popular football video game was first released in 1988 and initially featured Pro Football Hall of Fame former player turned broadcaster John Madden on the cover. In 1999, Electronic Arts started the trend of selecting one NFL player to appear on the cover, thus starting the Madden NFL cover athlete tradition. Garrison Hearst was the first to take the cover from Madden, appearing on the video game in 1999. Many of the best quarterbacks of all time have also graced the cover since.
While the Madden NFL cover athletes receive the distinction of gracing the cover of the video game and landing in the homes of millions of football fans around the globe, many believe that with great glory comes the Madden Curse.
Similar to athletes who have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, many who were selected to appear on Madden NFL saw some sort of misfortune in the following season such as injury or legal trouble. Accordingly, fans often campaign against their favorite player appearing on the cover out of fear of the curse.
Curse or not, just like the NCAA Football cover athletes, the football players who have appeared on Madden NFL received a great honor that will be remembered for years to come. Vote up the best Madden NFL covers, for all Madden covers, and let everyone know who you think was most affected by the Madden curse in the comments section.
For Madden 25 EA Sports polled fans as to who should grace the cover. The people voted and EA Sports listened--kind of. In April, legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders defeated Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson in the finals of a tournament to determine who would grace the 25th edition of the Madden video game franchise.
Now, EA Sports is splitting the honor, leaving Sanders as the cover athlete for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, while going with Peterson for the next generation consoles, XBox One and PlayStation 4.
#855 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Adrian Peterson
#1488 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Calvin Johnson
Alongside Troy Polamalu, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was the second player on the Madden NFL 2010 cover. Fitzgerald faced Polamalu in Super Bowl XLIII and though the Cardinals were on the losing end of the game, Fitzgerald set several league postseason records and was recognized by the video game.
#1447 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Larry Fitzgerald
Though not his best season, Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was honored for his stellar career with a Madden NFL 2000 cover selection. During his career, Sanders won the Heisman Trophy, was selected as the NFL MVP and was arguably regarded as the best running back to play the game. Though Madden NFL 2000 featured John Madden in the foreground on the cover, Sanders can be seen in one edition of the game in the background.
#328 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Barry Sanders
Fierce linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens was honored with the Madden NFL 2005 selection as one of the best at his position in the history of the game. Among other awards, Lewis helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV and became the first linebacker to be selected as the Super Bowl MVP.
#22 on The Most Obnoxious Athletes
#874 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Ray Lewis
Bringing joy to an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl in 2010. As one bonus for the accomplishment, Brees was named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2011 as selected by voters.
#1281 on The Best Athletes of All Timesee more on Drew Brees
For the first time, the cover of Madden NFL featured two top football players for the 2010 edition. Safety Troy Polamalu, having just won the Super Bowl with his Pittsburgh Steelers, was one of the two selected.
Also Rankedsee more on Troy Polamalu
Before he was an analyst for the NFL Network, Marshall Faulk was a running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection earned the honor of appearing on Madden NFL 2003 late in his career which included a Super Bowl championship and numerous personal awards.
#1381 on The Best Athletes of All Time
#234 on The All-Time Ugliest Athletessee more on Marshall Faulk