For football players, the opportunity to be on the cover of the Madden NFL video game is an honor that is as rare as it is cherished.
Unless you are Peyton Hillis, the cover is reserved for the best of the best, the game’s brightest (at the time) stars.
Once upon a time, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was recognized as one of those players.
Following the team’s run to Super Bowl XLIII in 2008/09, Fitzgerald joined Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu to make the only split cover in the game’s rich history.
It was surely a proud moment for the Cardinals and their fans, but at the same time, one that came with a little bit of stress. Much like the famed Sports Illustrated cover curse, there has been a belief that gracing the front of Madden can lead to misfortune the following season.
But did Fitzgerald suffer from the “Madden Curse?” In a word, no. In two words, definitely not.
In fact, the receiver had a banner 2009 season, catching 97 passes for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns, with the latter a number that still stands as his career high.
Fitzgerald’s success likely salvaged the cover’s standing in ESPN NFL writer Kevin Seifert’s ranking of the Madden cover guys since 2000, when players first started appearing on the front.
Looking at the players and how they fared the season of their cover, Fitzgerald/Polamalu came in eighth out of 17.
8. Troy Polamalu/Larry Fitzgerald (Cover 2010, season 2009)
What happened next: The rare double cover, and the split seasons that followed, forced me to take the easy way out and rank this one in the middle. Polamalu played in a career-low five games after spraining his knee in Week 1 and re-injuring it later in the season. Fitzgerald, however, persevered. He led the NFL with a career-high 13 touchdown receptions and helped the Arizona Cardinals to the playoffs.
Indeed, it was the Steelers great who held the cover back. While he intercepted three passes in those five games, his season was one worth forgetting.
Interestingly enough for Fitzgerald, it would not be until the 2013 season when he reached double-digit touchdowns again, though QB Kurt Warner’s retirement in January 2010 had a little to do with that.
Moving forward, if another Cardinal is to earn a spot on the cover the likely candidates would have to be defensive back Tyrann Mathieu or running back David Johnson, with cornerback Patrick Peterson also earning some consideration.
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