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The 25 Covers of EA’s Madden NFL Football

by: Esteban On  Friday, April 26, 2013

madden nfl football covers

On Wednesday night, Charissa Thompson and Marcellus Wiley of ESPN’s SportsNation announced the final results of fan voting in the 64-player Madden cover tournament. In the end, fans had to choose between reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and former NFL MVP (and fellow member of the 2K yards-club) Barry Sanders. And as you may have read somewhere, Barry Sanders won.

Today, in honor of Barry making the cover of the 25th anniversary edition, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at all the Madden covers through the years.


1. John Madden Football (1988)

25 madden cover 1988 - madden nfl covers

Supposedly EA and John Madden first agreed to create a football game in 1984, but Madden was so insistent that the game be as realistic as possible that it took four years for the programmers to get it right. My theory? Madden insisted on giving all his feedback via telestrator and none of it made any sense.

In any case, the first edition of Madden, which was called John Madden Football, was released in 1988 for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and MS-DOS.

(For you youngsters reading this, those were old-timey computers.)


2. John Madden Football (1990)

24 john madden football 1990 - madden nfl covers

Same name as the original, but on a 16-bit gaming console. That made it possible to switch vantage points, so for the first time the player saw the field from above and behind the quarterback rather than from the sidelines. Horray for innovation!


3. John Madden Football '92

23 John Madden Football 92 - madden nfl covers

New features for the third edition of the Madden franchise included instant replay, two-player cooperative play, and quarterback injuries that would result in ambulances coming out onto the field to take players away.

Talk about realism!


4. John Madden Football '93

22 John Madden Football 93 - madden nfl covers

In John Madden Football ’93 you could taunt your opponents and play legendary teams, such as Madden’s 1976 Oakland Raiders. Of course, the ’76 Raiders weren’t really the ’76 Raiders. The game wasn’t licensed by the NFL yet, so the ’76 Raiders were just some hypothetical team from Oakland.


5. Madden NFL '94

21 Madden NFL 94 - madden nfl covers

The fifth edition of Madden marked a huge turning point. EA finally got the rights to use official team names and logos, the game introduced “season mode” for the first time, and the actual title of the game switched to the format we know today.


6. Madden NFL 95

20 Madden NFL 95 - madden nfl covers

The sixth edition of Madden also saw a major innovation: real player names. EA finally made a deal with the NFLPA, and genuine pro football simulation was here.

The licensing deal with the NFLPA also opened the door for another major milestone: for the first time ever, the cover of the game featured actual NFL players—though only in the background, behind Madden’s big head. They were LT Erik Williams of the Cowboys and DL Karl Wilson of the 49ers.


7. Madden NFL 96

19 Madden NFL 96 - madden nfl covers

Madden NFL 96 wasn’t released until late November 1995, which is how they were able to get 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville on the cover. This was the first edition of the game to feature “classic teams” for each franchise (except the two new ones).


8. Madden NFL 97

18 Madden NFL 97 - madden nfl covers

Madden NFL 97 was the first edition of the game created for the 32-bit gaming era—i.e., the original PlayStation and SegaSaturn—and the improvements in graphics were dramatic. Also, you’ll note that, after a couple years of real NFL players taking up more and more space on the cover, for this game they took a step back and got demoted to faint black-and-white images. Obviously Madden put them in their place.


9. Madden NFL 98

17 Madden NFL 98 - madden nfl covers

And then there were none: for Madden 98, players vanished from the cover and it was all Madden once again.


10. Madden NFL 99

16 Madden NFL 99 - madden nfl covers

For the 10th anniversary edition, EA introduced another major feature: franchise mode. Now you could be the quarterback, the running back, the cornerback, the coach, and the GM.


11. Madden NFL 2000

madden 2000 cover

Madden 2000 was the last edition to feature John Madden himself on the cover. (Moment of silence.) However, some versions of the cover—like the one for PlayStation—feature a faint, blurry Barry Sanders in the background.


12. Madden NFL 2001

14 Madden NFL 2001 (Eddie George) - madden nfl covers

New millennium, new look for the cover. For the first time ever, Madden was Madden-less.

The first NFL player to appear on the cover all by himself? No, it wasn’t NFL and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. It was Super Bowl-losing running back Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans, the sixth-best rusher in 1999-2000.


13. Madden NFL 2002

13 Madden NFL 2002 (Dante Culpepper) - madden nfl covers

The 2002 cover featured Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He was hottest new QB in the league the year before, having thrown 33 TD passes and led Minnesota to an 11-5 record in just his second year in the league.


14. Madden NFL 2003

12 Madden NFL 2003 (Marhsall Faulk) - madden nfl covers

Marshall Faulk got snubbed for Eddie George in 2001, and he didn’t make the cover in 2002, right after he won the NFL MVP award. However, he did make the cover in 2003 after winning his second straight AP offensive player of the year award.


15. Madden NFL 2004

11 Madden NFL 2004 (Michael Vick) - madden nfl covers

Michael Vick made the cover of Madden in 2004, back when he was just a really exciting football player and not a controversial dog-murderer.


16. Madden NFL 2005

10 Madden NFL 2005 (Ray Lewis) - madden nfl covers

Madden 2005 introduced the “create a fan” feature for the first time and featured Ray Lewis on the cover. Obviously.


17. Madden NFL 06

9 Madden NFL 06 (Donovan McNabb) - madden nfl covers

It was a subtle change, but in 2005 EA decided to drop the first two digits of the year, meaning the game was called Madden NFL 06 instead of Madden NFL 2006. 

As for the cover athlete, EA decided to stick with their tradition of putting the loser of the previous Super Bowl on the cover. That’s why you see Donovan McNabb here instead of Tom Brady.


18. Madden NFL 07

8 Madden NFL 07 (Shaun Alexander) - madden nfl covers

For the cover of Madden 07, EA made their most sensible choice yet for cover athlete: Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, reigning NFL MVP.

As for the game itself, it introduced a cool new feature: lead-blocker control.


19. Madden NFL 08

7 Madden NFL 08 (Vince Young) - madden nfl covers

EA tried going the “new hotshot QB” route again for Madden 08, just like they did for Madden 2002. Of course, that’s always a gamble, because if said new hotshot QB ends up flopping, people look back and say, “why the hell was that guy on the cover?”

Well, here we are in 2013. And where, exactly, is Vince Young? Oh, that’s right, he’s sitting in his living room cursing the name of Jeff Fisher.


20. Madden NFL 09

6 Madden NFL 09 (Brett Favre) - madden nfl covers

The 20th anniversary edition of Madden produced the most bizarre cover.

On March 8, 2008, Favre officially announced his retirement. So EA decided to honor the legendary QB by putting him on the cover of Madden 09, which would have made him the first non-active NFL player to make the cover. However, that summer Brett had second thoughts, and by the beginning of August he’d made it official: comeback!

Problem was, the Packers were committed to some guy named Aaron Rodgers. So they parted ways with Mr. Packer himself…who then joined the New York Jets a week before Madden 09 came out…with Packer Favre on the cover.

The only thing EA could do? Make alternate covers featuring Jet Favre available for download.

Nice going, Brett.


21. Madden NFL 10

5 Madden NFL 10 (Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald) - madden nfl covers

The cover of Madden NFL 10 was one of the more sensible ones EA ever put out. It simply featured the two biggest stars (or at least the two most marketable stars) of the previous year’s Super Bowl teams—Troy Polamalu of the Steelers and Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals.


22. Madden NFL 11

4 Madden NFL 11 (Drew Brees) - madden nfl covers

In 2010, for the first time ever, the fans got to decide who would be on the cover of Madden. They were given the options of Minnesota DE Jared Allen, Indianapolis WR Reggie Wayne, and New Orleans QB Drew Brees, and they made the obvious choice.


23. Madden NFL 12

3 Madden NFL 12 (Peyton Hillis) - madden nfl covers

Since the feedback from the first fan vote for the cover of Madden was so positive, EA decided to do it again for the 2012 edition of the game. However, this time they expanded the pool of possible players to 32 and made the whole thing a tournament in which fans voted on head-to-head matchups. The result was that, somehow, Browns RB Peyton Hillis beat out Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, and Michael Vick to make the cover of Madden 12

I’d say something to the effect of, “this was an outrage” or “this was the worst Madden cover choice of all time,” but I won’t. Cleveland sports fans have it rough, so I’ll just let them have this.


24. Madden NFL 13

2 Madden NFL 13 (Calvin Johnson) - madden nfl covers

Fans were once again allowed to determine the cover athlete for Madden 13 via 32-player tournament voting. This time they redeemed themselves by choosing Calvin Johnson. He followed up his 2011 campaign by leading the NFL in receiving yards again in 2012 and putting an end to the so-called “Madden curse.”


25. Madden NFL 25

1 Madden NFL 25 (Barry Sanders) - madden nfl covers

For the 25th edition of Madden, EA changed to naming convention (to reflect the edition, not the year) and put 32 NFL legends up against 32 current players in the fan voting tournament. The result? Barry Sanders got some much-deserved love and will make his first solo appearance on the cover.