Which Lions Legend Made Madden Curse Into Make Believe?

Which Lions Legend Made Madden Curse Into Make Believe?
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Among the distinctions that NFL players covet is being chosen to appear on the cover of the Madden football video game.

Following the announcement of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen as the Madden 24 cover athlete, BetMichigan.com took a break from reviewing Michigan sports betting apps to examine the history of the Madden cover athlete phenomenon.

Bonus Bets Expire in 7 Days. One New Customer Offer Only. Must be 21+ to participate & present in MI. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-270-7117 for confidential help. Visit BetMGM.com for Terms & Conditions. US promotional offers not available in NY, NV, or Puerto Rico.

How We Determined Our List

We used ProFootballReference's “approximate value” stat to determine which players at running back or wide receiver have had the most productive seasons in the year that they graced the cover. In this list, we ranked all cover running backs and wide receivers.

Lions Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders was excluded as he was retired when on the cover of Madden 25 (2014).

Pro-football-reference.com says this in explaining its approximate value stat: “This is our attempt to put a single number on each player-season since 1960 so that we can (very approximately) compare across years and across positions.”

Best WR or RB Years After Madden Cover

Madden/Year Player Approximate Value Notable Stats
Madden 13 (2012)Calvin Johnson14122 Receptions, 1,964 Receiving Yards, 5 Receiving TDs
Madden 01 (2000)Eddie George141,509 Rushing Yards, 14 Rushing TDs, 50 Receptions, 453 Receiving Yards, 2 Receiving TDs
Madden 16 (2015)Odell Beckham Jr.1396 Receptions, 1,450 Receiving Yards, 13 Receiving TDs
Madden 19 (2018)Antonio Brown10104 Receptions, 1,297 Receiving Yards, 15 Receiving TDs
Madden 10 (2009)Larry Fitzgerald997 Receptions, 1,092 Yards, 13 Receiving TDs
Madden 03 (2002)Marshall Faulk9953 Rushing Yards, 8 Rushing TDs, 80 Receptions, 537 Receiving Yards, 2 Receiving TDs

Calvin Johnson Stood Out in 2012

Lions fans will be proud to know that former Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was on the Madden 13 cover, enjoyed a mammoth 2012 season. That year was so good, he tied for the lead in the RB-WR category with Tennessee running back Eddie George (2000) in PFR’s “approximate value” with a score of 14.

In 2012, Johnson had had 122 receptions for 1,964 receiving yards and five receiving TDs.

Johnson was in the midst of a streak of six Pro Bowl selections and was honored four times as an All-Pro in that span.

Michigan sports betting customers more interested in the upcoming season can get the Lions at anywhere from +2000 to +2500 odds to win their first Super Bowl in February 2024.

Must be 21+ to participate. T&Cs apply.

How Idea of ‘Madden Curse’ Came About

The Madden game cover has been a double-edged sword for some players. Indeed, it is an honor to be the face of the game, but it also carries with it the shadow of being something of a curse. An example of that was Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis. He was on the cover following his 1,000-yard rushing season in 2010, but he saw his career fizzle immediately after that. He was out of the league by 2014.

No such ill fortune befell Calvin Johnson.

After his super season in 2012, he went on to have three more great campaigns in which he caught a total of 243 passes and 29 touchdowns for more than 1,000 yards each season. 

Then, he surprised the football world with his retirement from the NFL after the 2015 season.

Johnson Earned Way Into Hall of Fame

His career came before there were any of the best Michigan sports betting promos to use, as his retirement happened before there was any online wagering on sports in the Great Lakes State.

After Johnson built a resume of nine impeccable seasons with the Lions, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021. He is Detroit’s all-time leader in every major statistical category among receivers.

Behind Johnson in the Pro Football Reference approximate value scoring as a Madden cover player is another wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. (Madden 16), who is now with Baltimore. Beckham earned an approximate value score of 13.

As for this year’s Lions, customers using the BetMGM Bonus Code Michigan can bet on Detroit at +140 odds to win the NFC North for their first division title since 1993.



Bill Ordine, senior journalist and columnist for BetMichigan.com, was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

Cited by leading media organizations, such as: