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Meet the little known player who became first Panther on Madden cover

Even if you thought it would have been Cam Newton, you'd be wrong.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Who s the first Carolina Panther to be featured on the cover of Madden?

Even if you thought it'd be Cam Newton, you'd be wrong.

It s Cary Brabham.

Yeah, that s me, Brabham said by phone on Friday.

Next question: Who the heck is Cary Brabham?

Back in 1995, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars were both expansion teams, and both played in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton in July. I wore number 40, and someone from the Jacksonville Jaguars (RB Gordon Laro) wore number 40, Brabham says, and obviously there was a picture taken where both of the numbers were in a play together. Brabham played safety at Southern Methodist, but thinks he might have been playing special teams that day. Typically, I was probably a second or third string guy, Braham said. He doesn t remember much of the game, but thinks the picture came from a running play in the second half.

That picture ended up on the cover of Madden 96.

You probably haven't heard of Cary Brabham because he wasn t on the roster on opening day in 1995. The Panthers, which had picked him up from the Raiders in the expansion draft, released him in August.

I didn t even know it at the time, Brabham says. It was probably a year later, and I was in a store, and go, Wow. Look, there I am. Maybe it was a few years later, he says. Maybe his kids pointed it out to him. It was a surprise to me at the time, he says, laughing. I didn t play many video games.

The Madden video game line started in 1990 with John Madden Football. Up until 2000, the game featured a picture of the legendary coach and broadcaster on its cover. In 2001, Madden disappeared, and Tennessee Titan Eddie George was on the cover. After that, the cover featured a different player every year. The selection of the Madden cover has become an event in itself. This year, more than 9.5 million people voted in a contest to select the cover, which came down to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Related: First look at Madden NFL 15

The cover of Madden 96 featured both a picture of Madden and a picture of both expansion teams, Carolina and Jacksonville, playing each other in the Hall of Fame Game in July 1995. But by the time Madden was released that November, Brabham was no longer a Panther. He signed with Green Bay, but tore his groin and took an injury settlement from the team. The Raiders asked him to play in Europe, but Brabham decided he was done with football. I was an Academic All-American in college, and I decided at that point that I wanted to move forward with my life.

Brabham now lives in the Dallas area with his wife and two kids, and runs Jubilee Collection, an online wholesaler that sells kids lighting to retail stores think chandeliers for girls rooms. His 18-year-old son will be a senior in high school this year and is looking to play football in college. He also got a perfect score on the SAT. He s probably going to play at Harvard, Princeton or Yale, Brabham says.

Hardly anyone recognizes Brabham from the video game anymore, he says. Before today, he hadn t seen it in years. And being on the cover isn t always a good thing. A lot of players and coaches believe in the Madden Curse, which predicts that the player on the cover will go on to have a bad season. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera believes in it, saying he voted to put Sherman on the cover instead of Newton.

I ask Brabham if he believes in the curse. What is it? he says.

Related:Madden cover athletes, before and after

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