Hillis, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound running back, emerged as a fan favorite during his first year with the Browns last season, when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Hillis received strong support from fans in Cleveland to beat Vick in the final vote and become the improbable face of the world’s best-selling sports video game. Hillis isn’t among the 500 professional athletes ranked by Q Scores, which Manhasset, New York-based Marketing Evaluations Inc., uses to measure popularity and appeal among customers.
“I didn’t think I had a shot,” Hillis said after the announcement, which was televised on Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN2. “Winning this means a lot to me and my family. If it wasn’t for (the fans), I wouldn’t have this. It just shows how big Cleveland fans are to the players.”
Hillis, 25, received 66 percent of the vote to prevent Vick from becoming the first player to have his likeness used twice for the cover in the 22 years of the Madden NFL series. He also denied the Eagles’ quarterback, who was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, his first major marketing opportunity since pleading guilty to dog fighting charges in 2007.
“It just shows he has a broad fan base and people admire what he does,” Vick said. “He’s very deserving.”
Voting started last month as a strategy by EA to combat negative fan sentiment caused by the NFL’s labor dispute. The contest was held like a single-elimination tournament, with players going head-to-head in each round of balloting.
Hillis reached the final as a No. 10 seed in his half of the 32-player field, first beating fellow running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. He then beat quarterback Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and running back Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs. In the semifinals, Hillis got 61 percent of the fan vote in eliminating quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers.
Hillis then completed his run by beating Vick, who had defeated DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
While Vick lobbied for fan support through his personal website and via Twitter and Facebook, the Browns had a link to vote for Hillis on their website.
Last year’s version of Madden, which featured New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the cover, sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S., according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, New York-based market research firm. EA doesn’t release dollar figures but said more than 90 million copies of the Madden games have been sold since starting in 1989.
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