The karma of posing for an EA Sports cover - Andrew Tougas University of Alberta
Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons has gone down with a broken fibula during a preseason match. Since the injury coincided with a cover shot of Vick on an issue of Sports Illustrated discussing the NFL preseason, many sounded off that the evil SI curse had again reared its ugly head. But what few people realize is that there’s an even greater curse wreaking havoc in the world of sports. Every year it derails careers, impedes athletes’ ascension into superstardom and trounces hopes for playoff contention—and all one has to do is be featured on the box of an EA Sports video game.
The EA jinx hit first and hardest for its NHL 99 cover boy, Eric Lindros. In a career marred with past playoff failures, a disappointing stint as captain of the Canadian Olympic hockey team in Nagano, and a history of injury, Lindros seemed poised in the 1999 season to regain the form he displayed when he won the Hart trophy in 1995. Through 71 games he had amassed 93 points, and was on pace for what would have been 107 points, but Lindros’ season came to an abrupt and jarring end with a collapsed lung during a game in Carolina. The team staff would be accused of urging the captain to board the plane despite his complaints of chest pain, further damaging what was an already tense relationship between management and the Lindros family.
The curse was equally unflinching to Mario Lemieux after he appeared on the cover of EA’s NHL 2002, as the Penguins’ fortunes and his own personal appeal would take a beating in Pittsburgh. After dealing Czech superstar Jaromir Jagr to Washington, the team was still thought to be at least playoff material, led by the superior talents of Alexei Kovalev, Marty Straka, Jan Hrdina, and of course, number 66. But, following a write-off season in which Lemieux spent all but 24 games on injury reserve, the Penguins failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and Super Mario would find himself the centre of controversy as he put his own team’s needs second to the 2002 Canadian Olympic team. Although he would win a gold medal, he would not dress for Pittsburgh after the Salt Lake break.
Jarome Iginla and Owen Nolan are two young players who both enjoyed breakout years only to see future seasons stymied by the EA curse. Instead of continuing 2003 and 2001 where they respectively left off the years before, the two were karmatically bitch-slapped for loaning their likenesses to the box, damning their promise into wasted years that both would be glad to end. Iginla would suffer a slump reminiscent of his early years when the Flames were really crappy thanks to a groin injury. Nolan would be locked into a tense contract negotiation that would see him miss significant amounts of time.
The dreaded curse was not restricted to hockey, as seen with the recent edition of EA’s MLB game which features both Oakland Athletic Miguel Tejada and Arizona Diamondback Randy Johnson. Following the trend, Tejada has seen his MVP form from a year ago disappear this year while Johnson’s Cy Young ability has evaporated like so many other injured players, as he required surgery early in the season.
Even 2001 cover boy Mike Piazza went from being the toast of the league playing for the Mets in the famed Subway series to the roast of the media as his team show diminishing returns at the plate. Piazza’s luck fizzled and his public image would later be engulfed in a pot smoking scandal (does that explain those 10-10-220 commercials, Mike?).
Footballers Dante Culpepper (QB) and Marshal Faulk (RB) endured the curse as they graced the covers on the 2002 and 2003 versions of the EA Sports John Madden franchise. Culpepper’s 2001-02 season would
see his QB rating drop nearly 15 points (from 98 to 83.3) as he threw 1300 fewer yards than the previous year. Faulk’s St. Louis Rams would go
from Super Bowl finalists to league laughing-stock as the entire team collapsed under the pressures of losing QB Kurt Warner, while Faulk would fall 400 yards short of his previous season’s campaign.
The curse almost always affects the featured player’s team’s playoff success. Faulk’s Rams weren’t even close to the playoffs in his EA year.
Or also ask cager/NBA Live 2000 cover-model Tim Duncan how it felt to go from 1999 NBA Finals MVP to first-round flameout at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Jason Kidd would attempt his own revenge on the curse in 2003 by taking his team to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. But the fact that they weren’t playing the LA Lakers and still lost holds some validity that the curse likes to add insult to injury in the worst
On deck for the NBA and NHL covers this year are the Raptors’ star Vince Carter and the Thrashers’ Dany Heatley. Neither one can be said to deserve this burden. Carter is trying to regain his tarnished image and elevate his team back into the ranks of respectability in the NBA, while Heatley is trying to establish himself as a star that can lead his team to playoff glory.
Though the good people at EA have a stranglehold on the video sports franchise, athletes should think twice about boosting their celebrity status. The curse is real.
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