Getting to the bottom of the Madden cover jinx

You probably already know that Mike Vick is on the cover of EA's Madden NFL 2004 game. And if you know that, you've probably heard about the supposed jinx that has crippled the last four athletes -- including the now broken-legged Vick -- that appeared on that game's box.

But now the alleged exorcists are talking and they're promising Vick and the public that the closets in Redwood City, Calif., aren't stocked with brooms and they don't have any stews being stirred in a black kettle in the basement.

"We don't wield that kind of power," said Jeremy Strauser, producer of the Madden game. "If we did, don't you think we'd make our (cover) athletes do extraordinarily well?"

Good point. But a jinx is worth more buzz. Even if it is admittedly, somewhat manufactured.

Although Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, who graced the cover of the 2001 game, is often made part of the jinx because his Titans bowed out of the playoffs in 2000 after going to the Super Bowl the year before, Strauser points out that George actually had career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns that year.

"If you want to count them not getting back to the Super Bowl as a jinx, that's pretty tough," Strauser said.

Strauser offered some other counterpoints to all the jinx talk. John Madden, who has appeared on the cover every year in the 14-year history of the game, doesn't miss many games, he says.

Well, maybe if you made his picture bigger.

"You can change things so that anything can be a jinx," Strauser said. "Sports Illustrated supposedly has a jinx, but who was on the cover the most throughout the 80's and 90's? Michael Jordan."

But Vick was on the most recent cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids!

Although he is the cover athlete, EA will demote Vick when it comes out with its roster updates before Week 1 of the season.

"We'll bring Doug Johnson up to the No. 1 spot and put Michael down," Strauser said. "But if you want to bump him up and play with him, you obviously can."

Although there's been much ado about the jinx since Vick went down on Saturday night, Strauser and his colleagues at EA don't believe that athletes will deny an opportunity to be on the cover next year if they are asked.

"Not too many people stay away from Sports Illustrated," Strauser said.

Let us be the judge. If EA's Madden NFL 2005 has some scrub offensive lineman on the cover, we'll know that athletes are taking cover from the cover.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com He is the co-author of On the Ball: What You Can Learn From America's Sports Leaders.