Thanks to the backing of Browns fans, running back Peyton Hillis continues his stunning run of upsets in voting to be on the cover of EA Sports' Madden NFL 12.
Hillis has reached the finals, facing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. That matchup creates a whole different dynamic in the voting, with a possible backlash from animal lovers still seething over Vick's running of an illegal dog-fighting ring that sent him to prison.
Apparently fans of the Browns who have set up Facebook pages to encourage support for Hillis don't seem worried about the Madden curse, which has beset several athletes who have graced the video game's cover.
One of the most infamous was Vick (2004), who suffered a broken leg in preseason. Barry Sanders (2000) retired before training camp began. Donovan McNabb (2006) suffered a hernia and Shaun Alexander (2007) fractured his left foot in week 3 that season.
The dubious string reportedly prompted San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson to decline the offer in 2007.
This is the second year that fan voting will select the cover boy. In 2011, Electronic Arts Inc. partnered with Doritos and only three players -- Drew Brees, Reggie Wayne and Jared Allen -- were nominated. Brees survived the season unscathed, although he did throw a career-high 22 interceptions.
This year EA chose a representative of all 32 teams (Seattle's was the 12th man). Hillis appealed to the company because of his 1,177 rushing yards (11th in the NFL) and 11 rushing TDs and his persona as the big bruising back, which fits with the essence of Madden. But the background of Hillis was also intriguing when the choice was made. The seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 2008 contributed as a rookie, then fell into oblivion in 2009 and was traded to the Browns for quarterback Brady Quinn in March, 2010.
In the last round of voting, which has totalled over 11 million since March 21 and draw interest from the United Kingdom and Latin America, Hillis bested Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, 61 to 39 percent. Vick advanced over Adrian Peterson 59 to 41 percent.
Hillis has also ousted Ray Rice (62-38 percent), Matt Ryan (51-49) and Jamaal Charles (60-40). ClevelandBrowns.com has also heavily touted the voting process.
Voting on www.ESPN.com/MaddenVote continues until noon EDT on Wednesday, April 27. The winner is scheduled to be announced that day at 4 p.m. on ESPN's "SportsNation.''
Here's a list of previous Madden covers supplied by EA Sports:
1989-98: John Madden
1999: Garrison Hearst (not on all platforms/regions)
2000: Barry Sanders and Dorsey Levens (separate covers, not only all platforms/regions)
2001: Eddie George
2002: Daunte Culpepper
2003: Marshall Faulk
2004: Michael Vick
2005: Ray Lewis
2006: Donovan McNabb
2007: Shaun Alexander
2008: Vince Young
2009: Brett Favre
2010: Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu (first dual athlete cover)
2011: Drew Brees