Madden NFL Covers By Year: A Look at All the Cover Athletes, From John Madden to Christian McCaffrey

Over the years, 35 people have graced the cover of Madden NFL. Which athletes have appeared on the cover of the game and its special editions?

Gracing the cover of Madden NFL is a top honor, and there’s an annual debate over who deserves to be that year’s cover athlete.

In early editions, John Madden was always on the cover since he was instrumental in developing the game, and it was named after him. In 1994 and 1995, Madden NFL started adding athletes in the background behind Madden or on the cover of special versions.

In 2001, despite opposition from Madden himself, the game replaced the legendary coach with NFL players on the cover, placing them front and center for the first time.

Over the years, 36 people have joined this exclusive club (counting special versions, background athletes, and covers that featured multiple players). Let’s revisit every cover athlete throughout the game’s illustrious history.

Every Madden NFL Cover Athlete Year By Year

The first edition of Madden NFL was released in 1988, but the game didn’t start using a rotating cover athlete until 2001.

Below is the full list of people who have been featured on the cover of the Madden NFL video game from its inception through the most recent version (including alternate and international versions, background athletes, and more):

  • 1988-1993: John Madden
  • Madden NFL 94: John Madden
    Ricky Watters featured on the PAL version
  • Madden NFL 95: John Madden
    Background: Erik Williams and Karl Wilson
  • Madden NFL 96: John Madden
    Background: Cary Brabham and Gordon Laro
  • Madden NFL 97-99: John Madden
    Garrison Hearst featured on the PAL version of Madden NFL ’99
  • Madden NFL 2000: John Madden
    Background: Barry Sanders
    Dorsey Levens featured on the European PAL version
  • Madden NFL 2001: Eddie George
  • Madden NFL 2002: Daunte Culpepper
  • Madden NFL 2003: Marshall Faulk
  • Madden NFL 2004: Michael Vick
  • Madden NFL 2005: Ray Lewis
  • Madden NFL 06: Donovan McNabb
  • Madden NFL 07: Shaun Alexander
    John Madden was featured on the Hall of Fame edition
  • Madden NFL 08: Vince Young
    Luis Castillo featured on the Spanish language version
  • Madden NFL 09: Brett Favre
    Roberto Garza featured on the Spanish language version
  • Madden NFL 10: Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald
  • Madden NFL 11: Drew Brees
  • Madden NFL 12: Peyton Hillis
  • Madden NFL 13: Calvin Johnson
  • Madden NFL 25: Barry Sanders (Xbox 360 and PS3) and Adrian Peterson (Xbox One and PS4)
  • Madden NFL 15: Richard Sherman
  • Madden NFL 16: Odell Beckham Jr.
  • Madden NFL 17: Rob Gronkowski
  • Madden NFL 18: Tom Brady
  • Madden NFL 19: Antonio Brown
    Terrell Owens featured on the Hall of Fame edition
  • Madden NFL 20: Patrick Mahomes
  • Madden NFL 21: Lamar Jackson
  • Madden NFL 22: Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes
  • Madden NFL 23: John Madden
  • Madden NFL 24: Josh Allen
  • Madden NFL 25: Christian McCaffrey

Here’s a look at the newest cover, which features the San Francisco 49ers running back.

The Origin of the ‘Madden Curse’

Once Madden NFL started featuring athletes on the cover, things did not go particularly well in the early years. Numerous examples of players getting injured or declining in performance after gracing the cover were dubbed the “Madden Curse.”

While some of the examples were certainly reaches, fans clearly believed in the curse. When Madden NFL has given fans the opportunity to vote for the cover athlete over the years, many individuals actively voted against their favorite players to avoid the curse.

MORE: Is the Madden Curse Real? Examining How Every Cover Athlete Fared

However, while numerous cover athletes got hurt or struggled in the early years of the game, this has been less common over the last decade or so.

After appearing on the cover of Madden 13, Calvin Johnson set the NFL’s single-season receiving record the following year. Tom Brady, meanwhile, won the NFL MVP award the year after appearing on the cover for the first time.

After Patrick Mahomes was the cover athlete in 2020, he won the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP. In 2022, Mahomes and Brady returned to the cover, and both led their teams to the playoffs. Brady led the league in completions, yards, and touchdowns while finishing second in MVP voting at 44 years old.

In recent years, there has been significantly less discussion about the curse. Now, many fans root for their favorite players to grace the cover without fear of calamity.

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