KIRKLAND — Shaun Alexander finally made it big. His cousin called and told him that the other day, skipping over the MVP award, the Super Bowl appearance and the set-for-life contract Alexander signed this offseason in favor of something his cousin deemed more relevant.
The cover of the latest Madden video game.
Alexander graces it in his Seahawks uniform, in full gallop, football tucked under his right arm, eyes burning straight ahead. His cousin told Alexander that he's finally somebody, finally cool.
To which Alexander responds: "I'm blessed."
Or cursed, for those bent toward trends or superstitions. Just ask past Madden cover boys Eddie George (2001), Daunte Culpepper (2002), Marshall Faulk (2003), Michael Vick (2004), Ray Lewis (2005) and Donovan McNabb (2006). All suffered injuries or suffered through subpar seasons the year they were on the cover.
Release date: Ships in August.
Available on these platforms Xbox 360; PlayStation 2; Xbox; Nintendo Gamecube; PC; PSP; Nintendo DS; Gameboy Advance; Mobile.
Price: $39.99-$59.99, depending on platform.
All are linked by the Madden Curse.
Wherever he goes, Alexander can't escape the questions. Even his pastor's wife called the other day to give her own, um, blessing on the subject.
"You get to break this curse that everybody is talking about," she said. "Everybody behind you will have to thank you for it."
Alexander believes in prayer, not curses
The director of marketing for EA Sports graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way and the University of Washington. His Seahawks roots run deep, evidenced by pictures of a young Chris Erb wearing a Steve Largent jersey and videotapes he saved of the Seahawks' 2-14 season.
Erb downplays the idea, but admits its relevance, which led to reservations about putting a player from his favorite team on the cover that bears the curse.
"We always want our guy to have the best season possible," Erb says. "We all have our fingers crossed that this jinxed stuff goes away. Hopefully we'll be talking in 12 months about a Super Bowl victory."
History begs to differ and bends itself to EA Sports' marketing slogan: It's in the game.
The curse, that is.
Start with George. He put up huge numbers during his cover season, but also endured a career-shortening hit from Lewis and fumbled against the Baltimore Ravens in a playoff loss.
Culpepper threw fewer touchdowns (14 compared to 33) and almost as many interceptions (13 to 16) as the year before, and suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss five games and required surgery.
Faulk missed two games in St. Louis during his cover year and gained fewer than 1,000 rushing yards for only the second time in nine seasons. He hasn't gained 1,000 rushing yards in a season since.
Vick broke his leg the next year and missed Atlanta's first 11 games. Lewis missed only one game during the next season with a broken wrist, but he played hurt in several others and didn't record an interception for the first time in his career.
And McNabb was on the cover last season, memorable only for his feud with Terrell Owens and a season-ending sports hernia injury.
Maybe there's a reason John Madden stopped appearing on the cover the year it went to George.
Fortunately for Seahawks fans, the deeply religious Alexander counts blessings instead of curses. Even though WagerWeb.com says more are betting against Alexander gaining 1,750 rushing yards this season, Alexander says he believes in a single superstition — prayer.
"I don't believe in curses," Alexander says. "I'm always the person that goes against the grain, the baseball player who grabs the random bat. Once you start believing in curses, you have to think about what sock you put on, how many times you stepped on a crack, did you pass a black cat, did you walk under a ladder, did you open an umbrella in the house. After that you get worn out.
"You know when there's an old creaky house, and you start worrying? Well, stop. It's an owl or a bird."
As further proof, Alexander and Erb note that the Madden Curse hasn't stopped NFL players, even scrubs, from clamoring for the cover. Erb gets requests all the time that stop just short of players sending glossy photographs and résumés to the EA offices.
"Curse or no curse, everybody, and I mean everybody, wants to be on that cover," Alexander says. "I don't know one person that would say no."
Marcus Trufant represented the Seahawks in the Madden Bowl at Super Bowl XL. He doesn't hesitate when asked if he would take the cover.
"In a heartbeat," Trufant says.
A history of taking games seriously
Alexander asserted his gridiron gaming dominance in the family's Kentucky living room. First with Tecmo Bowl, then Tecmo Super Bowl, then Bill Walsh College Football — all predecessors before Madden took over the video game world.
He took his gaming seriously, maybe a little too much. Alexander, his brother Durran and his best friend, Brian Maney, actually set up schedules so they could play a 12-game season, the playoffs and a Super Bowl. They kept their own statistics. They played with the same team (Alexander always picked the Houston Oilers and quarterback Warren Moon).
Alexander still remembers the results — he won two "Super Bowls" — from the five seasons they played.
"We were pretty deep into it," he says.
Which Durran says is an understatement. He remembers the competitive fire video games stoked in his younger brother, the times Shaun pulled his opponents' controller out of its socket, the times he threw his own controller and stalked out of the living room.
"Oh, my goodness," Durran says. "He would get hot."
Back then, the brothers thought those video games would never be surpassed in quality, but they pale in comparison to the latest Madden version. The latest feature is called "run to daylight" and it allows users to control fullbacks and offensive linemen, to open holes, then switch to the running back and run straight through them.
"The goal is to not break 30-yard runs on every play," Erb says. "But to make the 3- or 4-yard run really fun."
Alexander is the face of the new game. There are possible commercials in the works, press days set up in New York, and Alexander will review the game's new features. The only thing he won't do in relation to the game is play it all that often. (He is married, after all.)
"Not everybody eats cereal anymore"
Durran Alexander calls the last year in his brother's life "surreal," and Shaun Alexander celebrated by spending more time with his family at their Kirkland home. His anniversary to wife Valerie is on deck, along with plans to train in Alabama later this month and open the community center that bears his name in Kentucky sometime this fall.
Meanwhile, he's sifting through requests for speaking engagements and endorsement opportunities.
"Cousins. Relatives. Businesses. Churches. Whatever," Alexander says. "Everybody wants me to help something."
This is what happens when you win the MVP award, play in the Super Bowl, sign a franchise contract — and appear on the Madden cover.
Alexander says it might be the most coveted endorsement in all of football — maybe even all of sports.
"It might have passed the Wheaties cover now," Alexander says. "Because not everybody eats cereal anymore. But just about everybody knows somebody that plays that game."
A blessing, Alexander says again, aware of, but not concerned about the possibility of a curse.
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or email@example.com