Greg Brady could have told them, and the long-suffering fans of the Chicago Cubs might have a thing or two to add on the subject, but it comes down to this: The more you try to avoid a curse, the more certain it is to overwhelm you.
Electronic Arts surely thought they had finally found a can't-miss dodge to the legendary Madden NFL curse — you know, the maybe-it's-really-true phenomenon that any athlete who appears on the cover of video gaming's most-hyped annual franchise is likely to suffer a career-altering injury (Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb), criminal ignominy (Ray Lewis, Michael Vick again) or a stink-bomb season (Vince Young). Picking Brett Favre, a player who was supposedly hanging up his cleats for good at the end of the 2008 season, appeared to be a far better option than angering all 23 San Diego Chargers fans.
But then the Head Cheesehead proved he also was a passive-aggressive Waffle King and a big ol' diva to boot. By the time the bruised egos had settled, Favre had unretired, won a two-week game of PR chicken with Packers management and wound up as the newest star in the NFL's biggest television market. In other words? The curse is back in play, baby, even if it's wearing the wrong uniform on the cover of the box.
There's more going on here than a simple debate over which week Favre is going down with an injury. (My money's on week one against Minnesota.) As the whole unretirement drama unfolded, it became impossible to ignore the ways in which Brett Favre has come to mirror the very video-game franchise he's representing. If every Madden gets the cover boy it deserves, then Brett the Jet and Madden 09 are a match made in heaven. Let us count the ways.
D is for diva
Favre spent 14 seasons in Green Bay reveling in his image as the ultimate regular Joe, a perpetually stubble-chinned Mississippi mensch whose boyish love of the game charmed everyone — even, sometimes, fans of his team's most poisonous rivals. Then Favre unleashed his inner diva, burning both bridges and Aaron Rodgers' chances of being a successful NFL quarterback in his "I'm-back-no-I'm-not" soap opera.
Madden's been dealing with the same kind of identity crisis of late. The franchise has been guilty of its own diva-ish behavior — let's not forget how ruthlessly EA bumped its primary rival, 2K Sports, out of the game when 2K dared to underprice and nearly outsell them in 2005. More to the point, Madden has struggled in recent years to balance its undeniable appeal to regular-guy gamers who'd prefer to pick up and play rather than learn how to dial up a hot route with an increasing Bill Belichick—like complexity that's starting to alienate even the most hard-core of virtual offensive coordinators. Madden 09's trying to address this through things like putting you through a set of mini-games that supposedly gauges your ability to run on the Giants' virtual defense before you can even dial up an exhibition game. We'll see if it works as well as Favre's aw-shucks grin.
So you think Favre, a quarterback who sportscasters called a gunslinger more times than Troy Aikman used the phrase "most definitely" last season, might enjoy having a do-over on that ill-timed interception to the Giants' Jeremiah Cottrey that set up New York's overtime win in the NFC Championship game? (Or for that matter, any of hundreds of INTs that drove Packers fans batty and ended at least four Packers playoff runs in the early part of this decade?)
Well, hey, whaddaya know: Madden 09 features a rewind function that undoes your Favre-style mistakes three times per game. If only he'd had a rewind ability to complement his Lambeau Leap, Wrangler jeans and mad PR skillz, Favre would probably have more than one Super Bowl ring on his paw.
Snowflakes and steam
Even before he so unceremoniously unretired, one of the signature images of Favre's storied career is the sight of No. 4 standing on Lambeau Field last January, hurling footballs in a storm in which every snowflake seemed to be independently visible — like the pixels on NBC's Olympics broadcast and the beads of sweat on George W. Bush's brow during his hard-hitting interview with Bob Costas. You'll see the same sort of snowy detail in the winterized games in Madden 09 — heck, thanks to the fact that the graphics are finally coming into their next-gen glory, you'll even see the frozen breath steaming from the nostrils of the linemen. That's what I call something to celebrate.
Even with its annual set of minor flaws, Madden 09 will be a hit for the same reason it always is: Millions of sports gamers crave their virtual football fix in the same way that Favre used to crave his Vicodin. Favre might be a hit, if he can stay healthy, win games and avoid running afoul of the New York media the way Randy Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Jeremy Shockey did. And hey, even if his Jets end up 6-10, he'll always have his cover-boy copy of Madden to hang onto … or hawk on eBay.[email protected]