Appearing on the cover of a sports video game is undeniably a plum position to be in for a pro athlete. The exposure and celebrity an athlete can garner from such a high-profile spot can lead to extremely lucrative financial rewards. Negotiating cover status can keep big-time sports agents working the cell phones for weeks on end as they try to land their star client on the hottest titles of the year. For the athletes, the idea of lending their image to a game series that they grew up with is the ultimate status symbol, marking their arrival on the profitable sports scene and, in some cases, cementing their legacy for years to come. Whether for financial gain, props from their peers, or simple bragging rights, athletes aren't content to simply be in the latest NHL or NBA title, they want to be on the cover as well.
Of course, the game publishers aren't dummies; they benefit by nailing down the brightest stars in a particular sport for not only the face of a particular release, but also for instant, expert endorsers. If Ray Lewis says that Madden 2005 plays extremely tough defense--even if he's being paid huge sums to do so--who are we to argue with him? Press announcements of cover athletes carry nearly as much fanfare as the announcements of the games themselves. The thinking is simple: The right athlete on the cover of the right game can do wonders for a game's word of mouth and sales figures.
Yet there can be a downside to the fortune and fame. The ominous Madden Curse, as its commonly known, portends that any athlete appearing on the cover of an iteration of the Madden NFL series will have a decidedly subpar year at best, and may even suffer injury. One needs to look no further than Michael Vick (Madden NFL 2004), Marshall Faulk (Madden NFL 2003), and Eddie George (Madden NFL 2001) to see that there may be some truth to the so-called curse.
To that end, we thought we'd take a look at the cover athletes of all the major sports game releases in 2004 to see how their on-the-field performances improved or declined between last season and this, their cover-boy year. As you'll see, some athletes faired well this year, truly performing up to their all-star expectations. Others had years that were perhaps better forgotten. Finally, the jury is still out on how a particular cover boy will perform. The NBA, for instance, just tipped off its regular season this week, and even Nostradamus himself couldn't accurately predict the next time we'll see a real live NHL game. In these cases, we focused on each athlete's 2003 season to find out how they ended up on their respective video game cover in the first place.
In the end, practically any athlete would be overjoyed to appear on the cover of a major sports title these days. The stigma of video games as a hobby fit for nerds is largely absent from the sports genre, as a large population of the younger pro athletes are gamers themselves. As real sports and high-profile video games converge, expect to see this trend continue in earnest.
Now, on to the games!