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Fans to choose the next Madden cover athlete

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Who will score the next cover? - EA Sports

For NFL players, being named the cover athlete for EA's Madden franchise beats the pants off getting their face plastered on a Wheaties box.

Historically, the company has decided who gets the honor, but this year, it's letting fans make the decision.

EA and ESPN are partnering for a five-week, bracket-style voting campaign to determine who will appear on the front of Madden 12. The first round starts Monday and runs through Sunday, with weekly updates culminating in a full reveal on April 27.

32 contenders are in the running, one from each NFL team. Exactly how they were chosen as semi-finalists isn't clear, but some of the choices (and omissions) are likely to spark conversations among fans. For instance, Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick is among the options -- as are the boisterous Seattle Seahawks fans (known as The 12th Man) -- but New England Patriots quarterback and reigning league MVP Tom Brady isn't. (Maybe his ponytail and rhythm-impaired dancing skills worked against him.) Other options include Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers from the Packers, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.

While a Madden cover is a big bragging right for players, it doesn't come without some nervousness over the infamous Madden Curse. Some players have been seriously injured during the season following their appearance on the box, while others just turned in awful performances. When word leaked in 2007 that EA had approached running back LaDainian Tomlinson, frightened Chargers fans started a website (the now defunct begging him not to do it. He didn't, but claims the reasons were financial.

The newfangled approach to selecting the cover athlete isn't the only big change coming to this year's game: EA's sports division has also elected to do away with printed instruction booklets. Instead, users will be able to read a digital version from within the game. The move follows a similar action by Ubisoft last year.

While environmental concerns are being cited as the reason, financial ones are likely just as responsible. By doing away with the printed manuals, EA can lower production costs and enjoy a healthier take per game sold.

And given that this year's game may not have an NFL season to support it, anything EA can do to boost its profit margin is a good thing for the publisher.

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