By Barry Janoff
December 24, 2016: Since 1988, the year EA Sports released the first version of Madden NFL (then known as John Madden Football), nearly 20 of the NFL athletes who have appeared on the annual game box cover have been associated, either physically or statistically, with the Madden Curse.
Now, Rob Gronkowski is finding out first-hand whether the Madden Curse — which directly ties a player being on the Madden NFl box cover with a season- or career-ending event — is a myth, a joke or a painful reality.
In a humorous new spot, "Rob Gronkowski Gets His Winning Season," EA Sports pokes fun at the Madden Curse by linking Gronkowski’s season-ending back surgery on Dec. 2 with the fact that he is on the current edition of the video game, Madden NFL 17.
To which the All-Pro tight end for the New England Patriots says, with a smile on his face, "Expletive deleted you!"
The ad is part of an on-going multi-level effort to keep Madden NFL 17 top-of-mind since its release this past August, including print, Internet, digital and social media and player activation.
In addition, the company has ramped up its eSports efforts for Madden NFL. The EA Major Series has four Madden NFL 17 eSports competitions, with the finals for the first held this month, and the next three competitions scheduled for February, April and May.
Madden NFL 17 has been one of the most popular and best-selling games of the year, among the Top Ten overall in the U.S. Since the release of the first edition in 1988, the franchise has topped $4 billion in sales, according to industry analysts.
The self-deprecating spot with Gronkowski may actually have been sparked by Peter Moore, EA’s chief competition officer. On Dec. 1, after New England said that their tight end would undergo back surgery, Moore wrote on his Twitter page, "Well that's the last time we put a @Patriots player on the cover of @EAMaddenNFL #maddencurse."
The new spot finds Gronkowski at home, gingerly moving about as he recovers from the operation.
There is a lot of product placement throughout, which adds to the joke: Red and blue Patriots slippers; a plaque that reads, "Rob Gronkowski: New England Patriots"; a rubber ducky with the word Patriots on the side; a poster of Gronkowski with head-banger hair from the previous Madden NFL 17 commercial ("Catching’ With Flair," starring Gronk as a faux Bon Jovi rock star).
"Ducky, these are some tough times, but we’ll get through," he says to his toy. "Thanks for always being my friend and always being there for me. I love you."
Now in his kitchen, he eats Gronk Flakes cereal (a real item) right out of the box while holding a Patriots’ milk-filled mug that reads, "Do Your Job." He doesn’t drink the milk, but instead uses it to rinse his mouth after brushing his teeth.
Moving to his living room, he carefully sits on the couch (draped with a Patriots blanket) next to a huge jar of cheese puffs and turns on the TV.
"Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the season!” bellows a sports announcer. "It looks like the Madden Curse all over again."
As Gronkowski groans, we hear his cell phone buzz. He finds it under a pillow next to a copy of Madden NFL 17, which he tosses to the floor.
We then hear creepy music from an over-the-top scary B-movie and an ominous voice, which seems to be coming through Gronk’s entertainment sound system.
"You think I did this to you, Robert? You think this is my fault, don’t you? Over here," which prompts Gronkowski to look toward his kitchen. We see the Madden NFL 17 box he had thrown to the floor now perched on a counter.
"Yes, it is I, Robert," the voice continues. "Now we can win together . . . forever."
Gronkowski then puts on one of his Super Bowl championship rings and turns on Madden NFL 17, where, playing as himself, he scores a game-winning touchdown.
"Let’s take our team to the Super Bowl," the voice says. And a smiling Gronk agrees. (See the full spot here.)
Among the Madden NFL cover athletes who, per the legend, have been directly impacted by the Madden Curse are Garrison Hearst (Madden NFL 99, broken ankle), Donovan McNabb (Madden NFL 06, groin injury), Shaun Alexander (Madden NFL 07, broken foot) and Troy Polamalu (Madden NFL 10, torn ligaments).
Others have seen their stats dramatically fall off the season or two after appearing on the cover.
But as the spot with Gronkowski offers, "Get the season you always wanted. Don’t let I.R. (injured reserve) stop you from getting the season you want."
Beginning in January, select NFL teams will hold their own Madden NFL 17 competitions to crown the best Madden 17 player among their fans.
"Get the season you always wanted. Don’t let I.R. (injured reserve) stop you from getting the season you want."
According to EA Sports, people from across the country can register beginning for online qualification (details here), with an online ladder tournament starting Jan. 9. Then through early February, people across each of the eight NFL clubs will compete head-to-head to determine the top eight players representing each team.
Following the online qualifying contests, eight finalists will take part in live competitions in each NFL market. The contests, played in front of live audiences, will be streamed on NFL team Web sites and apps, and on the Madden NFL Twitch channel.
Initial tournament dates, participating teams and venues are:
Feb. 18: Minnesota Vikings – To Be Announced
Feb. 25: New England Patriots – Gillette Stadium
Feb. 26: Buffalo Bills – (716) Food and Sport
March 2: Seattle Seahawks – Museum of Pop Culture
March 4: Jacksonville Jaguars – EverBank Field
March 11: Pittsburgh Steelers – Heinz Field
March 19: San Francisco 49ers – Levi's Stadium
March 22: Kansas City Chiefs – Arrowhead Stadium
Prizes totaling $10,000 at each venue including cash, player-autographed memorabilia, and team merchandise will be awarded to fans who qualify for the live competitions.
Following the eight club tournaments, the winners from each of the local markets will compete at the Madden 17 Club Series Championship in early April. Players at this level will be eligible for an additional prize pool of $50,000, as well as the potential to qualify for the 2017 EA Sports Madden Championship in May.
Registration information can be found here.
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