This fall, Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount will be working together to bring explosive playmaking back to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense.
This month, however, Freeman and Blount will be pitted against each other in an online competition, as the battle to decide who will grace the cover of EA Sports' Madden NFL 2013 begins. The competition begins with 64 players from across the NFL, but only one player will be chosen to represent each team in the round of 32.
It is up to NFL fans to determine which 32 players move on to the next round…and ultimately which one star will be on the game's cover. For Buccaneer fans, the first bit of business is to decide whether Freeman, the franchise quarterback, or Blount, the highlight-reel running back, will continue on in the competition.
Over the past week, EA Sports has been revealing the two preliminary candidate from each team in the NFL in the process of unveiling the opening round of 64. The Buccaneers' two selections were announced on Sunday. Online voting will begin on March 7 and continue through March 21. Buccaneer fans will find a portal to the voting site on Buccaneers.com throughout those two weeks.
The 32 team winners will be announced on ESPN.com on March 21, after which Buccaneer fans will have the opportunity to vote for either Freeman and Blount to help the continue advancing through the bracket.
Last year, EA Sports and ESPN introduced the online competition to determine the cover subject of the ultra-popular Madden NFL game. Each team was represented by one player – in the Buccaneers' case, it was Freeman – for an opening bracket of 32 men. Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis eventually won the vote and found his image on the cover of Madden NFL 2012. More than 13 million votes were cast by NFL fans during the selection process.
That marked the first time that fans participated in the selection of the Madden cover subject. From the game's introduction in 1988 through 1998, the game featured John Madden himself on each cover. Beginning with running back Garrison Hears on the 1999 version, the game has annually displayed one of football's biggest stars (or two of them, as was the case with Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu on the 2010 version). Other players who have graced the cover include Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Marshall Faulk and Daunte Culpepper.
Many of the 32 teams' two choices for this year's cover have already been revealed as well. For instance, New England Patriots fans will be deciding between wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Fans of the Denver Broncos will have to determine whether 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller can beat out quarterback Tim Tebow and his cult following. The Arizona Cardinals' Fitzgerald will have another crack at the cover if he can beat out rookie sensation Patrick Peterson. And Oakland Raiders fans have the unusual – but understandable – job of choosing between punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
Both Freeman and Blount head into the NFL's 2012 season looking to recapture the 2010 form that marked each as one of the NFL's most promising players at their respective positions. That season, Freeman impressively tossed 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions while Blount, an undrafted free agent, ran for over 1,000 yards. Those two helped the Buccaneers surprise the NFL with a 10-6 record and a prominent place in the NFC playoff hunt right down to the season's last hour. Though the team failed to build on that promise in 2011, big things are expected of both Freeman and Blount under the leadership of new Head Coach Greg Schiano.
With the help of Buccaneer fans, either Freeman or Blount could be the next big thing in the Madden NFL universe as well. Voting begins on Wednesday; now is your chance to make yourself heard.