As if the dreaded “Madden Curse” wasn’t enough, the level of hype surrounding who would grace the cover of EA Sports’ newest version of Madden NFL went from unnecessary to absurd in March 2011, when EA and ESPN teamed up and let fans decide via a tournament-style online vote.
This change in approach happened to coincide with sudden fame of then-Browns running back Peyton Hillis. Acquired by Cleveland when the team traded Brady Quinn to the Broncos, Hillis came out of nowhere in 2010, rushing for 144 yards in a losing effort against the Ravens in Week 3. He finished the season with 270 carries for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Did I mention Hillis is a white running back? Did I need to? Combine that fact with the narrative of a relatively unknown player, who gets a shot and makes the most of it, and you’ve got yourself a new fan and media darling. In hindsight, the fact Hillis got more votes than 31 other players—including Aaron Rodgers and Ray Rice—to become the Madden NFL 12 cover boy shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Hillis decided to strike while the iron was hot, pushed for a more lucrative contract—failed—lost the support of his teammates, and did almost nothing in 2011 before being traded to Kansas City in 2012 (where he’s been a non-factor). Luckily for Hillis, he can blame it all on the Madden Curse.
As fun as letting fans vote for the next Madden cover player may be, when a guy like Hillis follows greats like Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu, then the ritual has lost its sheen.
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