Before Monday, my original concept for this week's commentary was to center on the launch of the Jokia Un-Gage and how poor pre-orders will end up resulting in the biggest gaming flop since the Virtual Boy. However, certain factors come into play when you least expect it.
Enter the "Madden Curse."
We've all heard about it. Up until the 2000 release, John Madden graced the cover of his EA Sports football franchise. With 2001, star players were used as cover athletes. What first might seem like the next best thing since being on the cover of a Wheaties box has suddenly become a curse to rival those of the Red Sox and the Cubs (well, maybe not the Cubs anymore now that they are in the NLCS.)
Think about the previous covers. 2001-The Tennesee Titans are one yard away from beating the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl, and their running back Eddie George graces the first Madden PS2 cover. The following year he only averages 3.4 yards per carry and his Titans are beaten by the Baltimore Ravens early in the playoffs.
2002-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is our cover boy. The following season is a tumultuous one, centering on the death of teammate Korey Stringer and ending up with a losing record, and changing head coaches from Dennis Green to Mike Tice.
2003-St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk is fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, but it all goes downhill from there. After making the Madden 2003 cover, he suffers an ankle injury and the once mighty Rams start off the season 0-5 and end up missing the playoffs.
Now for 2004, Atlanta Falcons phenom Michael Vick becomes Madden's cover boy, and go figure, during a preseason game HE BREAKS HIS FREAKING LEG THE DAY AFTER THE GAME HITS STORES! Not only that, but without him, the Falcons are currently 1-4 and will most likely miss the playoffs.
However, I noticed after Vick's injury that the curse does not truly apply to just Madden, but to other EA Sports titles as well. Look at NASCAR Thunder. Jeff Gordon is on the first cover and his standings have taken a nosedive last year (then again, the issues he had with his ex-wife could also be a factor.) Dale Earnhardt Jr., though not as badly hit from the curse, still had to be dragged away from his car a few weeks ago with a concussion. Tony Stewart, on the other hand, goes from Winston (or eventually Nextel) Cup champion in 2003 to an unusual 666 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth.
The new MVP Baseball franchise also has its curse. Randy Johnson's cover appearance turns his season into a 4.26 ERA, 6-8 record disappointment, and his Diamondbacks end up 16 games behind the division. NCAA might normally might not suffer the curse (since the only cover athletes are Heisman-winning seasons heading to the NFL), but considering Chris Weinke's failure in Carolina and Joey Harrington's up and down season (mostly down), is it any surprise to why we haven't seen Carson Palmer play for Cincinnati yet?
But it is sad to say, the worst curse victim of them all has to come from the NHL series. While the past few cover boys (Owen Nolan, Mario Lemieux, and Jerome Iginla) have not suffered much (though I wish someone would know Glory Hoggio Lemieux out of the game for good), no one will ever reach the level of Atlanta Thrasher Dany Heatley.
Last year, Heatley was one of the bright points for the Thrashers, whose 41 goals and 89 regular season points placed him ninth in the NHL. He was also the 2003 All Star MVP, and had his entire career ready to go.
That came to a shocking end last Monday night.
After attending an event for Thrashers' season ticket holders, he and teammate Dan Snyder are involved in a horrific car crash. After going at least 80 miles per hour, Heatley's Ferrari lost control while on a curve and smashed into a brick and wrought iron wall. The Ferrari is split in two and both Heatley and Snyder are ejected from the car. Heatley suffers a torn ACL and MCL, requiring surgery and causing him to possibly miss the entire upcoming season, however that is light compared to his passenger.
Snyder ends up in a coma, suffering from massive brain trauma and also requiring surgery. Sad to say, it wasn't able to save his life. Snyder never recovered from his coma and died at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Heatley has been charged with several counts, including driving too fast for conditions, driving on the wrong side of the road, striking a fixed object, and a felony count of serious injury by vehicle. With Snyder's death, however, the serious injury count was dropped and replaced by a count of first degree vehicular homicide, a charge that could land Heatley behind bars for up to 15 years.
It is really sad to compare these events to other victims of the "EA Curse," but the coincidence is astonishing. Not only is this a striking blow to the Snyder and Heatley families, but also to the Atlanta Thrashers, the National Hockey League, and to all fans. We at Game Industry News, and I, Todd "GIN HARDCORE VER. 2" Hargosh, in general, wish to express our deepest sympathies to all those who are affected by these tragic events.
Special thanks to both ESPN.COM and NHL.COM for the news articles referred to in this commentary.