Coincidence or curse? Looking back on Madden’s troubled cover athletes

Rick Marshall
Digital Trends
the madden curse nfl
the madden curse nfl

Nearly 20 years into the iconic franchise’s history, there’s no escaping the “Madden Curse.” This time around, the cover athlete is New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who’s seen more of the sideline than the field this season as a result of various hamstring and back injuries. Gronkowski, who’s expected to miss the rest of the year, is just another notch on the belt of Electronic Arts’ football flagship.

The legend of the Madden Curse has grown from a simple joke to the sort of superstition that has fans aggressively campaigning to keep their teams’ stars off the game’s cover. It started in 1998 when Garrison Hearst appeared on the cover of a Madden NFL 99, then proceeded to break his ankle shortly thereafter. Of the 19 players who have graced the cover Madden games prior to this season, 17 have had troubling or abruptly shortened seasons following their cover debut — including several who suffered season-ending injuries shortly after their game hit shelves.

The spectre of the Madden Curse has become so widely recognized, in fact, that the gambling world has begun posting odds each year regarding the likelihood that the most recent Madden NFL cover athlete will be injured during the season. Back in 2010, Madden NFL developer EA Tiburon even confirmed plans to develop a movie based on the notion of the Madden Curse. (Six years later, it seems that athletes aren’t the only ones who can fall victim to the curse.)

Naturally, EA Sports continues to dismiss any serious talk of a “curse” hovering over its wildly successful franchise, and attributed the rash of injuries and other negative, post-cover issues to an athlete’s natural regression after a season of peak performance. And they’re probably right. (Probably.)

Still, the long history of ill-fated athletes that have adorned each edition of the game certainly offers an intriguing string of coincidences to ponder.

History of the Curse (click each cover for details)

Madden NFL 99

madden 99 game garrison heart
madden 99 game garrison heart

Madden NFL 2000

madden 2000 barry sanders dorsey levens
madden 2000 barry sanders dorsey levens

Madden NFL 2001

madden 01 game eddie george
madden 01 game eddie george

Madden NFL 2002

madden 02 game box dante culpepper
madden 02 game box dante culpepper

Madden NFL 2003

madden 03 game box marshall faulk
madden 03 game box marshall faulk

Madden NFL 2004

madden 04 michael vick
madden 04 michael vick

Madden NFL 2005

madden 05 ray lewis
madden 05 ray lewis

Madden NFL 2006

Madden NFL 2007

madden 07 shaun alexander
madden 07 shaun alexander

Madden NFL 2008

madden 08 vince young game box
madden 08 vince young game box

Madden NFL 2009

madden 09 brett favre game box
madden 09 brett favre game box

Madden NFL 2010

madden 10 game box larry fitzgerand troy polamalu
madden 10 game box larry fitzgerand troy polamalu

Madden NFL 2011

madden 11 game box drew bees
madden 11 game box drew bees

Madden NFL 2012

madden 12 game box peyton hillis
madden 12 game box peyton hillis

Madden NFL 2013

madden 13 game box calvin johnson
madden 13 game box calvin johnson

Madden NFL 25

Madden NFL 2015

Madden NFL 2016

madden-16-cover
madden-16-cover

Madden NFL 2017

madden-17
madden-17

Madden NFL 99

madden 99 game garrison heart
madden 99 game garrison heart

Cover Athlete: Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers)

The Road to the Cover

After joining the 49ers in 1997, the former University of Georgia running back set franchise records in 1998 for yards in a season and combined rushing / receiving yards. He also famously achieved one of the longest runs in NFL history when he ran for a game-winning touchdown in overtime against the New York Jets during the team’s first game of the 1998 season.

The Curse Strikes

After being named the first-ever cover athlete for the upcoming edition of Madden NFL, Hearst led the 49ers to the playoffs, only to suffer a horrifying broken ankle in the team’s second-round game against the Atlanta Falcons. Complications from surgery caused a bone in his foot to die, and early prognosis indicated that he might never play football again. Hearst missed the next two seasons rehabilitating from the injury.

Madden NFL 2000

madden 2000 barry sanders dorsey levens
madden 2000 barry sanders dorsey levens

Cover Athletes: Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions) & Dorsey Levens (Green Bay Packers)

The Road to the Cover

Widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs of all time, Barry Sanders was voted to the Pro Bowl every season he was in the league, and in 1997 he became one of only three players to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season. He also became the first player to rush for over 1,500 yards in four consecutive seasons, and finished the 1998 season with the third-highest career rushing yards in NFL history.

In contrast, Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens was a relative newcomer to the NFL spotlight prior to appearing on the Madden NFL cover. With only two seasons rushing for over 1,000 yards, Levens was a surprising choice for the game’s cover, but his appearance in the 1997 Pro Bowl after a 1,400 yard season had earned him recognition as one of the league’s fastest rising stars.

The Curse Strikes

Not too long after he was named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2000, Barry Sanders announced his retirement from the NFL in a surprise move that left fans – and the league, by most accounts – reeling. While it’s not the most obvious evidence of a “curse,” Sanders’ unexpected exit from the league left a huge void in the Detroit roster, and there still remains quite a bit of controversy (and mystery) surrounding the scenario that ended the career of one of the league’s greatest players.

With Sanders’ abrupt exit, EA Sports quickly put together another cover featuring up-and-coming star Levens, who had helped lead the Green Bay Packers to several playoff runs in recent years. The season after appearing on the cover would end up being on his last on the starting roster, however, as a nagging injury limited him in 1999 and Green Bay posted their worst record since Brett Favre became the team’s quarterback in 1992. Levens would be released by the Packers in 2001.

Madden NFL 2001

madden 01 game eddie george
madden 01 game eddie george

Cover Athlete: Eddie George (Tennessee Titans)

The Road to the Cover

The Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State University earned a reputation as one of the most reliable workhorses in the NFL during his nine-season career, and he entered the 2000 season saddled with high expectations after his team was defeated by the slimmest of margins in the previous year’s Super Bowl. George had rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of his four seasons thus far, and averaged over 3.7 yards per carry to carry the team.

The Curse Strikes

The ever-reliable George seemed like a safe bet to break the curse when he was named the Madden NFL 2001 cover athlete, and the jinx seemed destined to end when the Titans entered the playoffs as one of the most dominant teams in the NFL with George in the midst of a record-breaking season.

Nevertheless, a rare bobbled pass by George late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens led to an interception and a touchdown that ended the Titans’ otherwise stellar season. While George would remain in the NFL for four more seasons, he never ran for more than 1,200 yards in a season again, and averaged less than 3.4 yards per carry for the remainder of his career.

Madden NFL 2002

madden 02 game box dante culpepper
madden 02 game box dante culpepper

Cover Athlete: Daunte Culpepper (Minnesota Vikings)

The Road to the Cover

Former University of Central Florida star Daunte Culpepper found quick success in the NFL after being named the starting quarterback for the Vikings ahead of the 2000 season. He immediately led the team to an 11-5 record and the conference championship game on the strength of passing for almost 4,000 yards and rushing for nearly 500 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl, and began the 2001 season as one of the most celebrated young quarterbacks in the league, leading to his selection as the Madden NFL 2002 cover athlete midway through the season.

The Curse Strikes

Just a few months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete, Culpepper suffered a knee injury during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and had to miss the rest of the 2001 season. His performance deteriorated the following season, when he threw 23 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns.

This would be one of the first years that the notion of the “Madden Curse” was widely referenced when discussing a player’s unexpectedly poor performance after being featured on the game’s cover.

Madden NFL 2003

madden 03 game box marshall faulk
madden 03 game box marshall faulk

Cover Athlete: Marshall Faulk (St. Louis Rams)

The Road to the Cover

Already a Super Bowl champion and a multiple winner of the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, Marshall Faulk was the centerpiece of an offense dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” when he was named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2003. He had led the Rams to a second Super Bowl just a season earlier and now held a cornucopia of rushing, receiving, and combined yardage records, and seemed poised to make another championship run in 2002.

The Curse Strikes

The season that unfolded after Faulk appeared on the Madden NFL cover would prove to be the beginning of the decline for one of the NFL’s most prolific running backs. The 2002 season would end up being the first he was unable to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and his yardage totals continued to decline in subsequent seasons. He eventually missed the entire 2006 season due to surgery on his knee, and never returned to the league.

Madden NFL 2004

madden 04 michael vick
madden 04 michael vick

Cover Athlete: Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons)

The Road to the Cover

One of the most electric players in the league, Michael Vick redefined the quarterback position during his early seasons, setting records for rushing yards by a quarterback while also setting a high standard for completion percentage and passing yards. While other quarterbacks had success running the football before Vick joined the league, the former Virginia Tech star raised the bar for mobile quarterbacks with almost 3,000 yards passing and 777 yards rushing during the 2002 season. He also led the Atlanta Falcons to an unexpected playoff victory that year.

The Curse Strikes

Just a short time after it was announced that Vick would be the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2004, Vick fractured his right fibula during a preseason game. The injury forced him to miss the first 11 games of the season.

Madden NFL 2005

madden 05 ray lewis
madden 05 ray lewis

Cover Athlete: Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens)

The Road to the Cover

One of the most feared defensive players in the league, Ray Lewis anchored a team that repeatedly won with its defense – and more specifically, with him leading the defense. The team had already won a Super Bowl in 2000, and Lewis was one of the primary reasons for the Ravens’ success, with seven seasons of more than 100 solo tackles to go along with multiple sacks, interceptions, and record-breaking defensive performances.

The Curse Strikes

While Lewis’ season following his debut as the Madden NFL 2005 cover athlete wasn’t exactly terrible, the usually reliable linebacker failed to record a single interception in the 2004 season – the first time that had ever happened in his long career. The Ravens also failed to make the playoffs for the first time in several years, and in Week 6 of the following season, Lewis tore his right hamstring, forcing him to end his season abruptly.

Madden NFL 2006

Madden 2006
Madden 2006

Cover Athlete: Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles)

The Road to the Cover

The former Syracuse quarterback led the Philadelphia Eagles to multiple conference championships during his first five years in the NFL, and found success despite a less-than-stellar supporting cast of wide receivers for several of those seasons. (The 2003 Eagles have the dubious distinction of being the only NFL team in the modern era to go two months without a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass.) A dual threat running and passing, McNabb had led the Philadelphia Eagles to the team’s second Super Bowl in franchise history in 2004, earning him the nod for the upcoming Madden NFL cover honor.

The Curse Strikes

McNabb was on track for a huge year in 2005 when his season was derailed by a groin injury that sent him to the injured reserve list for the remainder of the season. He never quite recovered the following season, and in Week 11, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus in his right knee and was once again sidelined for the remainder of the season. The remainder of his time in the NFL would be marked by inconsistent performances and turmoil on and off the field, culminating in the end of his football career in 2011.

Madden NFL 2007

madden 07 shaun alexander
madden 07 shaun alexander

Cover Athlete: Shaun Alexander (Seattle Seahawks)

The Road to the Cover

Already an accomplished rusher and one of the primary cogs in the Seattle Seahawks offense, Shaun Alexander took his game to the next level in 2005 when he became the first running back in NFL history to record 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons, and broke the franchise record for rushing. He also became the first player in NFL history to score 19 TDs rushing or receiving in only 10 games.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player that season, and led the Seahawks to an appearance in Super Bowl XL. Oh, and he also had the honor of becoming the first Seahawks player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, too.

The Curse Strikes

Seemingly indicating that the effect of the Madden Curse might be in direct proportion to your accomplishments, Alexander’s 2006 season was derailed by a broken foot in Week 3 – just a few months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete. The season would become his first without 1,000 yards rushing since he became a starter for the Seahawks.

Alexander’s abbreviated 2006 season was followed by an injury plagued 2007 season that had him suffer a fractured wrist, sprained knee, and sprained ankle. The result was an even worse season, and Alexander was cut from the team’s roster in 2008. In the wake of all the injuries following his cover appearance, Alexander even addressed the Madden Curse, saying in a 2007 interview: “Do you want to be hurt and on the cover, or just hurt?”

Madden NFL 2008

madden 08 vince young game box
madden 08 vince young game box

Cover Athletes: Vince Young (Tennessee Titans) & Luis Castillo (San Diego Chargers)

The Road to the Cover

After winning the BCS National Championship in stunning fashion for the University of Texas, Vince Young carried over his college success to the NFL with a fantastic rookie season that had him break just about every record a first-year quarterback could possibly break. The fleet-footed signal caller led the Titans to multiple come-from-behind victories and was eventually named Offensive Rookie of the Year and later chosen for the Pro Bowl that season.

For the Spanish-language release of Madden NFL 2008, Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo was chosen as the game’s cover athlete after two seasons making a name for himself as one of the NFL’s fastest rising stars on the defensive side of the ball.

The Curse Strikes

Prior to either Young or Castillo being named as the cover athlete for Madden NFL, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was approached to be on the game’s cover. After a contingent of vocal Chargers fans initiated a campaign to keep him off the cover due to their fear of the Madden Curse, Tomlinson declined the offer from EA Sports, citing failed contract negotiations for his likeness. The developer than approached Young and Castillo.

After scoffing at the Madden Curse when he made the announcement on late-night television, Young had a slow start to the 2007 season, only to injure his quadricep in Week 6. He would miss the following week’s game – the first time he had ever missed a game due to injury. He would return later in the season only to reinjure himself in the final game of the season, opening the door for backup Kerry Collins to take the reins.

Young’s transition to a backup role was cemented the following season when he injured his knee in the first game of the 2008 season and Collins was named the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.

Proving that even the alternate versions of the game are subject to the Madden Curse, Castillo missed a significant portion of the 2007 season several months after being named the Madden NFL cover athlete. Sidelined by a knee injury, he only played in 10 games that season.

Madden NFL 2009

madden-09-250x250-c
madden-09-250x250-c

Cover Athlete: Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers)

The Road to the Cover

EA Sports hoped to honor the career of one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks by putting Green Bay Packers veteran Brett Favre on the cover of Madden NFL 2009 after the celebrated passer announced his retirement from the league. The honor capped off one of the quarterback’s most accomplished seasons in the league as he broke multiple career milestones and solidified his legacy in the NFL record books with a phenomenal 2007 season. EA Sports announced its plans for the cover of the upcoming Madden NFL after a tear-filled retirement speech from Favre in March 2008.

The Curse Strikes

No sooner had the Madden NFL cover debuted with Brett Favre in his Green Bay jersey than the quarterback suddenly decided that he wasn’t done with the league after all. Favre eventually signed with the New York Jets and had a relatively decent season – marred by off-field issues more than anything on the field – only to sustain an injury to his right shoulder late in the season that would plague him for the remaining three seasons leading up to his retirement (again) in 2011.

Madden NFL 2010

madden 10 game box larry fitzgerand troy polamalu
madden 10 game box larry fitzgerand troy polamalu

Cover Athletes: Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) & Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers)

The Road to the Cover

The cover of Madden NFL 2010 marked the first year that two athletes were featured on the same cover of the game, and much like in previous editions, the athletes chosen seemed to be relatively safe choices. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had earned praise as one of the best pass-catchers in the NFL well ahead of his Madden NFL cover debut, with a Super Bowl appearance and multiple single-season and franchise records already in hand by the time EA Sports approached him.

Similarly, Troy Polamalu was already a multiple Pro Bowl selection as a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers before his debut on the Madden NFL cover, and had helped the Steelers win several Super Bowls – including the most recent one against Fitzgerald and the Cardinals the previous year.

The Curse Strikes

Fitzgerald is one of the first clear-cut examples of the Madden Curse generally missing its mark, as the wide receiver set several personal records over the course of the 2009 season. He had a slight letdown in 2010 (due to the exit of longtime quarterback Kurt Warner), but still managed to put up impressive numbers both seasons. If there’s any effect of the curse to be seen, it’s that Fitzgerald was unable to play in the 2010 Pro Bowl due to a rib injury.

On the other hand, Polamalu seemed to take the full brunt of the Madden Curse. The defensive all-star sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the first half of Week 1 of the 2009 season, and was forced to miss the next four games. He then played in three more games later that season, only to injure his posterior cruciate ligament in November. The Steelers would miss the playoffs that year and finish an unusual 9-7.

Madden NFL 2011

Madden 2011
Madden 2011

Cover Athlete: Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)

The Road to the Cover

Pass-happy New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was named the Madden NFL cover athlete after his record-breaking 2009 season that had him lead the Saints to Super Bowl XLIV and defeat the Indianapolis Colts in a wild shootout. Brees set a new NFL record for completion percentage during the season, and gave the Saints their first championship in franchise history. He was named the Super Bowl MVP and received numerous other accolades during the season, including the honor of being named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year.

The Curse Strikes

While the 2010 season wasn’t a terrible disappointment overall, Brees had one of his worst seasons to date. The usually accurate passer threw twice as many interceptions as he had in previous years, and the team’s generally lackluster performance led to a playoff defeat in the first week of the postseason. The loss was especially disappointing given that New Orleans lost to Seattle, the first team in NFL history to make it into the playoffs with a losing record.

Madden NFL 2012

Madden 2012
Madden 2012

Cover Athlete: Peyton Hillis (Cleveland Browns)

The Road to the Cover

A former fullback turned running back, Peyton Hillis came off the bench for the Cleveland Browns in 2010 to smash his way to 1,177 yards rushing and 477 yards receiving in a surprising season that put all eyes on the otherwise unheralded bruiser.

By the end of the season, Hillis – who had only rushed for 397 yards over two seasons in the NFL prior to this breakout year – was in elite territory with the likes of Marshall Faulk and other dual-threat rushers who terrorized opponents with both their catching and running abilities. In the contest to determine the Madden NFL 2012 cover athlete, Hillis was chosen over Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.

The Curse Strikes

Hillis’ troubles began well before the 2011 season, with heated contract disputes leading to trouble in the Cleveland clubhouse, then physical troubles that included a bout with strep throat and an injured hamstring that had him missing games all season and generally failing to get in sync with the team.

He ended up playing only 10 games that season, accumulating just 587 yards rushing in a significant letdown from his highlight-filled 2010 performance. The Browns declined to resign him following the season and he left the team as a free agent.

Madden NFL 2013

Madden 13
Madden 13

Cover Athlete: Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)

The Road to the Cover

Calvin “Megatron” Johnson already held nearly every record a wide receiver could have in the NFL before being named the cover athlete for Madden NFL 2013, with the former Georgia Institute of Technology standout living up to every bit of the hype that surrounded his first-round selection in the 2007 NFL draft. Johnson even managed to put up gaudy numbers during Detroit’s notorious 0-16 season in 2008, during which he led the league in receiving touchdowns and finished among the top five in receiving yards.

The Curse Doesn’t Strike

Probably the best case against the Madden Curse, Johnson’s 2012 season was one of his best overall, and featured countless records falling by the wayside as he went on to record 1,964 yards receiving over the course of the season – a new NFL record that beats the previous record held by Jerry Rice.

Johnson also set or tied NFL records for 100-yard games and receptions during 2012, proving that not even an appearance on the cover of Madden NFL 2013 can stop him from being one of the best wide receivers ever to play the game.

Madden NFL 25

Madden 25
Madden 25

Cover Athlete: Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)

The Road to the Cover

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson earned Madden NFL cover honors when he returned to football after eight months of rehabilitation for an ACL and MCL tear during the 2011 season. Already a workhorse for the team prior to his injury, his prospects for a successful return seemed dim after he was carted off the field during a December 2011 victory over the Washington Redskins.

Peterson returned to the team in 2012 and proved all the doubters wrong by rushing for 2,097 yards over the course of the season – the second-highest tally for any running back in the history of the league. His performance helped the team improve from a 3-13 record to a 10-6 finish, and earned him NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

Editor’s note: Barry Sanders also appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 25, but only the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 releases. He was retired at the time, though, and he’d already served his Madden Curse sentence after appearing on the Madden NFL 2000 cover.

The Curse Strikes

While Peterson’s start to the 2013 season looked good with a 78-yard rushing touchdown on the first carry of the game, he struggled for the first half of the season with a nagging foot injury. He ended up playing only 14 games, and the team’s record dropped back down to 5-10-1 after he was declared done for the season in December due to the same, aggravated foot injury.

Madden NFL 2015

Madden 15
Madden 15

Cover Athlete: Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)

The Road to the Cover

One of the league’s most dominant defensive backs in the league, Richard Sherman’s knack for shutting down offenses – and putting on a show after doing so – made him a popular (and polarizing) pick for the Madden NFL 2015 cover athlete. Capable of turning even the best wide receivers into mediocre performers, Sherman put his season on the line against the Madden Curse, going so far as to tell ESPN, “I don’t believe in curses. I believe in God.”

The Curse Doesn’t Strike

Bucking the trend of cursed cover athletes, Sherman had gave another all-star performance during the 2014-2015 season, leading Seahawks’ defense and helping Seattle return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season. Although the team lost against the New England Patriots in the championship game, it wasn’t due to any lack of effort — or performance — by Sherman, who recorded three tackles for the league-leading Seattle defense. After the season, however, the Seahawks announced Sherman might need Tommy John surgery during the offseason to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow. However, Sherman later announced he would opt to heal naturally, rather than get surgery. In the end, he healed on his own in time to return to the starting lineup for the first game of the 2015-2016 season.

Madden NFL 2016

madden-16-cover
madden-16-cover

Cover Athlete: Odell Beckham, Jr. (New York Giants)

The Road to the Cover

The 12th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, New York Giants reciever Odell Beckham Jr. made his presence known late in the 2014 season with a memorable, one-handed touchdown reception during a Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys that was hailed as one of the greatest catches in NFL history. Beckham went on to become one of the most accomplished rookie receivers in the league’s history, setting numerous records for both first-year players and veterans with a season that included 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns — all in just 12 games. He eventually beat out the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski to adorn the cover of the next edition of Madden NFL, becoming the youngest player in the series’ history to be featured on the cover.

The Curse Doesn’t Strike

The season after making the cover, Beckham’s season was marred by some on-field anger issues that resulted in the Giants’ receiver being suspended a game, but the incident had no discernible effect on his performance the rest of the season. Finishing the season with 1,450 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, Beckham actually recorded higher numbers than the year before, and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.

Madden NFL 2017

madden-17
madden-17

Cover Athlete: Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots)

The Road to the Cover

Injuries had been a recurring problem for prolific New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s career long before he graced the cover of Madden NFL 17, but he still managed to become one of the league’s most productive — and dominant — players at the position for several years leading up to the 2016-2017 season. A runner-up in the previous year’s Madden NFL cover selection process, Gronkowski finished the 2015-2016 season with 10 touchdowns and 1,018 yards on the season, and helped lead the Patriots to the playoffs for yet another year. He capped off another excellent season with selection to the Pro Bowl and the AP All-Pro team for the fourth time in his career.

The Curse Strikes

After a hamstring issue forced Gronk to miss the Patriots’ season opener against Houston, he bounced back to amass 540 receiving yards and three touchdowns through six games before leaving New England’s Week 7 game against Seattle with a herniated disc in his back. Gronkowski is now scheduled for back surgery on Friday, and is expected to miss the rest of the season. After two disappointing seasons in which Madden cover athletes largely remained healthy, the Curse appears to be back in full effect.