Antonio Brown graced the cover of the John Madden video game last year and Pittsburgh Steelers fans groaned: “What about the curse?” “Oh no, I hope he doesn’t get injured!”
Why all the worry? Well over the last 20 years, players who have graced the cover, have had a chance to have a terrible season, or not play at all. Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, Drew Brees, Brett Farve, Shaun Alexander, Vince Young, Peyton Hillis, and Brett Farve suffered one of their worst years while being Madden cover models. Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Troy Polamalu, Adrian Peterson, and Rob Gronkowski all missed significant portions of their seasons due to injury. And Barry Sanders, the original Madden cover model (not named Madden), retired from football and never played a down.
So, over the years, a superstition has grown among football fans. You do not want your star to be on the cover of Madden. So Steeler fans held their collective breaths this past season. “Is AB going to hold up?” “The curse has to be over right? I mean, Brady just won a Super Bowl the year before?”
August 1, 2018: Antonio Brown pulls up lame in training camp. “Oh no! The CURSE!!” Nope, it was minor and he was held out of the preseason to return to the team full strength Week 1.
“Surely he’s going to have a down year?” Nope, that didn’t happen either. He had another 100 catch year with nearly 1,300 yards and a league leading 15 touchdown catches, on his way to his 7th Pro Bowl nomination.
“Surely there is no curse, whew!” said the week 16 Steeler fan as AB completed his best game of the year posting 185 yards and two TD’s on 14 catches in a heartbreaking loss to New Orleans. “Hold my beer”, said the Madden Cover….
Wednesday, before practice, on the final week of the season, the Steelers were preparing to fight for the playoffs against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. We don’t know the exact way it went down, but we do know that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown had a disagreement about route running, that led to AB leaving before practice started. When asked by Head Coach Mike Tomlin, why did he leave practice?, AB responded that he had a knee injury. The coaching staff set up an MRI for Friday, and AB didn’t appear. Team walkthrough on Saturday? Still no AB. Mike Tomlin decides to bench Brown for missing the MRI and walkthrough, only to be confronted by AB’s agent Drew Rosenhaus on Sunday morning, stating his client can play. Tomlin reinforces his decision to bench AB, but told his agent that Antonio still needs to come to the game.
Brown shows up to the game, hoping to play, and has a face to face with Coach Tomlin. He’s seen on the sideline, in his best furs, and leaves the field at halftime, never to return. From the best I can piece together, this was Antonio’s last interaction with coaches and administration, as he refused to answer calls, texts, or attend meetings, to pressure the team to force a trade.
Now, the Steelers only option was to settle for a trade with the Oakland Raiders where all they received was a 3rd and 5th round pick while eating $21 million in dead money, to unload a potential Hall of Fame player.
I can almost hear John Madden now: “Boom! That was a big hit taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers. That one will be tough to shake off!” Oh yes, Steeler fans. The curse is back, and it hit hard, in one of the most unforeseen, gut-wrenching ways possible.
Do you believe in the Madden curse? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!