Michael Vick. Aaron Rodgers. Adrian Peterson. Peyton Hillis?
At first glance, the Cleveland Browns’ running back would be the easiest to pick out in a game of “which one of these doesn’t belong?” The other three have combined for nine Pro Bowl appearances. Hillis has zero.
Rodgers has a Super Bowl victory. Vick and Peterson have both played in NFC Championship games. Hillis hasn’t played a down in the playoffs.
But ask the hundreds of thousands of people piling in votes to ESPN.com for the player who will be on the cover of Madden 2012, and Hillis belongs.
Fans have control over the athlete on the cover of the famous video game this year. One player from each of the 32 NFL teams was placed in a NCAA Tournament-style bracket, with the player who received more votes moving on to the next round. Hillis bested Baltimore’s Ray Rice, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, to get to the finals. He had at least 60 percent of the vote in three of the matchups.
His final competition is none other than Vick, who graced the cover of Madden 2004 before breaking his leg in a preseason game during the height of the Madden Curse phenomenon. More on that in a bit.
But it’s easy to see why the fans have flocked to Hillis. He represents the typical blue-collar worker that Americans love to cheer. He was drafted in the last round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and had to fight for a position as fullback. After injuries, Hillis finally had a chance as a featured running back with Denver, but then he sustained another injury.
Hillis was considered a throw-in as part of a trade with the Browns for Brady Quinn, and his 1,177-yard, 11-touchdown season last year came as a surprise to just about everyone outside the Hillis family.
With all that said, it is difficult to root against Hillis. His team has been one of the league’s worst for a decade and could use the positive feedback. (When was the last time anybody thought of having a Cleveland Brown on the cover of a video game whose title wasn’t something like “Misfit Football 2000?”) He is in a familiar underdog role against one of the big dogs (no pun intended, Mr. Vick) of the NFL. A win for him would be a win, if only a small one, for the oft-depressed and mimicked Cleveland fan base.
It would also to be interesting to see what happens if two longtime “curses” — The Madden Curse and the Cleveland Sports Curse — collided. Would Hillis being on the cover of Madden offset them both and allow a Cleveland sports team to finally win something? Or would the result resemble a bizarre-o Groundhog’s Day scenario, relegating Cleveland to 40 more years of losing?
Yes, all the computers in The Post’s newsroom have been used to vote for Hillis. This just got more exciting.
Vince Nairn is a senior studying journalism and The Post’s sports editor. Send him your thoughts on the Madden 2012 cover race at firstname.lastname@example.org