7 sports games which cursed their cover athletes

Does being on the cover of a game lead to a career downfall?

If you’re a sports fan, you’re no stranger to the term “Madden curse”. As the story goes, cover athletes on EA’s Madden games will be cursed in the season following their appearance. But Madden isn’t the only franchise with a rumored curse. Other sports games are marred by similar stories.

We decided to dive deep on 7 athletes who experienced serious problems immediately after being featured for a cover, to determine if they got hit by a curse, or just folded under pressure.

UFC 2 and 3

Before they were announced for the cover of UFC 2, Ronda Rousey and Connor McGregor were both undefeated. Between 2013 and 2015, Rousey – an Olympic athlete – was the longest-reigning UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion. Two days after the UFC 2 cover announcement on Nov. 13, 2015, she would lose her first fight to Holly Holm. Rousey’s UFC career suffered from that point on, as she went on to lose her next fight to Amanda Nunes.

UFC cover athletes

McGregor’s part on the UFC 2  cover was announced on Dec. 13. In his first fight after the announcement, McGregor lost to Nate Diaz. At the rematch, McGregor was able to pull out a win, and since then he has only lost three other fights. One of those losses, however, came after the release of UFC 3 on Feb. 2, 2018 – it was his infamous fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6. McGregor hasn’t had a fight since, but it is suspicious that his first fight after each announcement resulted in a loss. In some way, both games may have somehow cursed his performance.

MLB the Show

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins appeared as the cover athlete for MLB the Show in 2010 and 2011. In his 2010 season, Mauer’s runs and hits dropped from his previous season. His home run production dropped from 28 to just 9 in the season, and he would also see a drop in his RBIs, or runs batted in.

The following season, still as the cover athlete, Mauer saw his number drop even more, and across the board. He struggled with injuries that year, resulting in a dramatic decrease in his games played. In his first season after being a cover athlete, fans saw all of his numbers recover greatly.

RBI Baseball 20

Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers was announced as the cover athlete of RBI 20 on Nov. 19, 2019. Yelich was coming off of his NL MVP season of the year before, when he fouled a ball off of his knee cap which resulted in a fracture that ended his season.

Christian Yelich cover athlete

While the cover announcement came after his injury – and we’re not sure what his 2020 season looks like – he himself knew he would be featured in advance. This may be a reach, but it’s possible that this was a case of a “fast-acting curse”, which effected his season after he confirmed with MLB Advanced Media that he would appear on the cover of the game.


This is one of the games with the most recorded cases of cursed cover athletes. There’s a long history of NFL players being affected by the Madden curse, so I’ll just mention a couple of them. Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks appeared on Madden 07 and the season after doing so, fractured his foot which caused him to miss six starts. He also failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time since the 2000 season, and never reached 1,000 rushing yards again. The season after fracturing his foot, he was again plagued with injuries and was cut from the team before the season ended.

Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots was on the cover of Madden 17 right before a season which saw him with limited to no snaps for four weeks, due to hamstring issues. Later that season, he took a hit to his head that knocked him out of the game, and kept him out of the one in the following week. Gronkowski was able to come back in week 12, and was then pulled out of the game due to injury and never returned. He made the decision to get back surgery the following week, and ended his season. However, he’s the only player that has won a Super Bowl immediately appearing on the cover of Madden, though he did not play much to contribute to the team’s success.


Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers appeared on the cover of NHL 99, which was released on Sep. 28, 1998. Before that moment, very few could slow Lindros down. He was an unstoppable force in his first seven seasons, but then suffered a series of concussion problems, which started in 1998 and altered his career forever.

Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames appeared on NHL 09. Before the game’s release, Phaneuf scored a career-high 60 goals, was on the NHL First All-Star team, and was runner up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defensive player. After the cover, Phaneuf recorded a career-low of 11 goals, had a +/- of -11 – meaning that the other team scored an even-strength or shorthanded goal while he was on defense. He was then traded.

NBA 2k

NBA 2k hasn’t seen the same type of curse as the other games on this list. Their curse instead results in cover athletes leaving their team shortly after appearing on the cover of the game. Lebron James appeared on the cover in 2013 as a member of the Miami Heat. The following season, James left the Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. For NBA 2k15, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder was on the cover in 2014. Two years later, Durant left the Thunder to play for the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

NBA 2k cover athlete

Paul George of the Indiana Pacers was on the cover of NBA 2k17, but in 2017 he left the Pacers to join the Thunder. Kyrie Irving was on the cover of NBA 2k18 in a Cavaliers uniform, but was traded to the Celtics before the game was even released. To round out the list, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors was on the cover of the Canadian version of NBA 2k18 and was then traded to the Spurs in 2018.

Curse, or unfortunate circumstances?

So, can we definitely say that any athletes were actually cursed by appearing on the covers of these games? There’s no way to say if all of this evidence stacks up to that conclusion. It’s just a little fishy that this can be seen in almost every game played on the big stage.

An argument can be made for athletes feeling the need to perform to their highest degree after being on the cover. This can sometimes cause enough stress to affect their focus and performance in the coming weeks, or even seasons. Either way, we don’t believe particular games are cursed. It would seem that if there is curse, it encompasses all sports game franchises. In other words, nobody’s safe.

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Alexandra Lutz

I'm 23 years old, from Wisconsin. I hold a Bachelor's degree in journalism and will be working towards my Master's degree in communication in the fall of 2020.
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