NEW YORK – In February, Donovan McNabb finally got the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl but couldn't rally them past the Patriots. A few months later, teammate Terrell Owens dragged McNabb into a verbal spat that might not be settled until training camp, if then.
Now McNabb essentially is inviting a black cat to cross his path.
McNabb is the latest football player to grace the cover of Electronic Arts' Madden NFL line, the video game made famous by legendary announcer and former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden. It's an endorsement deal that could be the closest thing the sports business world has to a curse.
"It might be a trend, but I don't believe in the curse at all," McNabb said. "I'm happy I'm on the cover."
In 2003, cover athlete Michael Vick broke his leg just one day after the game hit the shelves. He played in only five games that season. The year before, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk – who had five straight 1,000-yard seasons – injured his ankle after appearing on the cover. He ran for 953 yards that season and hasn't hit the 1,000-yard mark since. Gracing the cover of the 2002 Madden game meant a below-average year for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. In the season he appeared on the cover, he threw fewer touchdown passes and had a worse quarterback rating than the season before.
McNabb, though, seems unfazed by the apparent trend.
"I know Mike and Daunte, and we talk about different things, and the cover thing is nothing that they ever brought up," McNabb said. "I'm just not worried about it."
EA officials are quick to point out that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George graced the cover for the 2005 and 2001 versions, respectively, and had successful seasons without injury. Before that, Madden himself was on every cover since the popular game's debut in 1989.
"Football is a rough sport, and people get hurt," EA spokeswoman Wendy Spander said. "So we don't think it has anything to do with them being on the cover."
Jim Spinello, who brokered the Madden NFL 2006 deal for McNabb, said he never even gave the jinx a thought before presenting the deal to the quarterback.
"It's a great branding opportunity," he said. "This is the legitimization of your status in football from a commercial standpoint."
McNabb actually avoided another supposed endorsement jinx – the Campbell's Soup curse. Shortly after appearing in ads for the product, then-Rams quarterback Kurt Warner got hurt and lost his job to backup Marc Bulger. Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who also appeared in spots, suffered a career-ending knee injury. McNabb, who has been joined in the ads by his mother Wilma, has endorsed the soup brand for five years.
Electronic Arts is the only NFL-licensed game on the market.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.