Christian McCaffrey calls Madden curse 'myth' after being named cover athlete: 'Whatever happens, happens'

Christian McCaffrey was named the "Madden NFL 25" cover athlete on Tuesday, and he didn't wait long to tempt fate.

Speaking with NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the San Francisco 49ers running back was asked if he was worried at all about the fabled "Madden curse" when he accepted the offer to become cover athlete. He didn't sound very worried:

“No, I’m not superstitious at all about it. I was so excited, man. This was such an honor. When I first got the call, I was in shock. It's something I just never thought would happen to me. I never thought that someone would call and tell me I'm on the cover of Madden.

"So when I got the call, I wasn’t thinking about any curse, I was just excited. I think that stuff is kinda myth and whatever happens, happens. I'm excited to be on the cover."

Given McCaffrey's injury history, those are bold words.

McCaffrey sits as the top running back in the NFL this offseason after leading the league in rushing with a career-high 1,459 rushing yards, plus 564 receiving yards and a career-high 21 total touchdowns in 2023. He has proven to be a perfect fit for the Niners, who rode him all the way to Super Bowl LVIII last season.

However, McCaffrey has had issues staying healthy in the past, playing only 10 games total for the Carolina Panthers between 2020 and 2021. Could appearing on the Madden cover invite more woes?

Let's take a closer look at how it's worked out for his predecessors.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 11: Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during pregame warmups before Super Bowl LVIII against the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey ain't afraid of no curse. (Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

It is undeniable that the history of the "Madden NFL" has seen some of its cover athletes suffer down years or worse in the year after.

There are certainly some examples that stand out, such as Michael Vick (2003) fracturing his fibula and Peyton Hillis (2012) fighting strep throat and hamstring issues for a team that let him walk at the end of the year. But as you'll see, the past 10 post-Madden seasons have been up and down, so here's a closer look.

For scale, we'll use a five-point system named after Hillis, for whom Cleveland Browns and assorted trolls juiced an online vote against a post-scandal Vick (likely to the relief of Madden's publisher).

  • "Madden NFL 24," Josh Allen: Had a relatively down year with a career-high in interceptions, Bills won division but lost to Chiefs in divisional round. 3/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 23," John Madden: N/A

  • "Madden NFL 22," Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes: Brady was slightly less productive in his final season at age 45 while Mahomes had another Pro Bowl year, stunned the Bills in the "13 seconds" game and lost to the Bengals in the AFC championship. 2/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 21," Lamar Jackson: Played just fine, though not as well as his previous MVP year. Ravens got off to a slow start and dealt with a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak, but managed to get a wild-card berth, where they got revenge on the Titans but got steamrolled by the Bills. 2/5 Hillises

  • "Madden NFL 20," Patrick Mahomes: Won the Super Bowl. 0/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 19," Antonio Brown: Posted a decent year by his standards until he feuded with Ben Roethlisberger, got benched for missing practice in Week 17 and demanded a trade, the beginning of one of the most bizarre stretches of time we've ever seen from a player. 5/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 18," Tom Brady: Won his third MVP award, led the NFL in passing and reached the Super Bowl, where the Patriots lost to the Eagles via the "Philly special." 1/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 17," Rob Gronkowski: Was knocked out for the season by a herniated disc in Week 12, did not play a down in the Patriots' Super Bowl run. 4/5 Hillises, 5/5 if you don't care about rings.

  • "Madden NFL 16," Odell Beckham Jr.: Posted the most productive season of his career, with a career-high in receiving yards and touchdowns, though also got suspended a game for safety violations while the Giants went 6-10. 1/5 Hillises.

  • "Madden NFL 15," Richard Sherman: Earned his third straight first-team All-Pro honors and helped lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Patriots in the Malcolm Butler game. You might remember his dismayed reaction going viral. 2/5 Hillises.

So it's been something of a mixed bag. You could argue that the majority of the athletes on the past 10 Madden covers have suffered from down years, but that's also the nature of football. Players get injured and underperform, with their struggles amplified by both the Madden cover and the expectations created by the kind of seasons that lead to a Madden cover.

The thing about a lot of those seasons, even the bad ones, is quite a few players would kill just to be able to call a season such as Allen's 2023, with 4,306 passing yards and 11-6 record, a down year. It's all comparative, with very high standards, and in the end, it's very easy to call any season that doesn't end in a Super Bowl a failure.

So the curse will live on, barring an incredible run of success, fully embedded in American sports and video game culture.