Do the Vikings believe in Manti Te'o?

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2013 - 9:30 AM

Squeaky-clean Heisman Trophy runner-up one month, tabloid fodder the next. Many NFL teams, including the Vikings, are scrutinizing Manti Te'o. Will the Vikings take a chance on the Notre Dame linebacker in the draft?

More than 10,000 college prospects have been selected since the NFL began its draft 78 years ago. Not a single one sent general managers scrambling to gauge the potential toxicity that could be associated with the kind of distraction that’s riding shotgun with Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o into Thursday night’s first round.

The instinctive middle linebacker with the unquestioned passion for the game is a seven-time national award winner, a Heisman Trophy runner-up and clubhouse leader among modern athletes and their thermonuclear-sized social media meltdowns. Guess which of those will reverberate the loudest when draft day serves up another glucose rush to hyperactive NFL reporters who can be more relentlessly annoying than children chirping, “Are we there yet?” from the backseat of a cross-country car ride.

In case anyone has forgotten and can’t wait until being bombarded with the story again Thursday night, Te’o claims he was tricked into falling in love with Lennay Kekua, a sweet gal who was neither real nor a gal, nor someone Te’o actually met in person during a lengthy relationship. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a California pastor and acquaintance of Te’o’s, created Kekua out of thin air, Internet savvy, a fake voice and, as he told ABC’s Dr. Phil, romantic feelings for Te’o.

“What happened to Manti drew so much mass media appeal because it was kind of a weird thing and it happened to a football player,” said Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a strong advocate for filling the Vikings’ crater at middle linebacker with Te’o, a friend and former college teammate. “It’s something that’s never really happened to anyone else, so it was different. Unfortunately, it just took off like crazy.”

Smith is one of five former Fighting Irish players on the current Vikings roster who were acquired by General Manager Rick Spielman. He’s also one of three who played with Te’o at Notre Dame and wants to play with him again. Armed with the 23rd and 25th picks on Thursday, Spielman has done his due diligence and clearly is interested in Te’o, who is expected to be selected somewhere in the bottom half of the first round.

The trouble begins

Sept. 12, 2012, was the day the story began making its runaway wrong turn into the public eye. Tuiasosopo staged Kekua’s “death” that day, which was the same day Te’o learned of his grandmother’s death. Three days later, Te’o mentioned the deaths in a postgame interview after a dominant performance in a win over Michigan State. From there, even venerable Sports Illustrated fanned the heartwarming tale of a young man whose Heisman Trophy chase was dedicated to the tragic death of his longtime girlfriend.

Sympathy blossomed even as things began to unravel behind the scene. Tuiasosopo called Te’o as Kekua on Dec. 6 to say she was still alive. Two days later, Te’o stuck to the script of Kekua’s death during a national interview, later prompting some to believe he was in on the hoax behind what became the biggest story in college football.

After Deadspin.com exposed the hoax on Jan. 16, Te’o waited three days before explaining himself in an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. Five days after that, he was shedding tears on Katie Couric’s show on ABC. Basically, Te’o said he was the victim in a humiliating deception of which he had no clue how to escape. A week later on Dr. Phil’s show, Tuiasosopo spent two days taking full responsibility for completely hoodwinking an innocent Te’o.

Obviously, that didn’t solve all of Te’o’s problems.

“Anybody to go through this, it’s definitely embarrassing,” Te’o said. “You’re walking through a grocery store and you kind of like give people double-takes to see if they’re staring at you. It’s definitely embarrassing. And I guess it’s part of the process, part of the journey. But you know what? It’s only going to make me stronger. And it definitely has.

“It could be a hurdle. But it could also be a great opportunity to show who you really are. That’s the way I have to approach this. It’s been a great learning experience for me.”

The fallout begins

Meanwhile, reporters were left to question what all they should question when writing feature stories. Never mind that Te’o’s parents and teammates also believed that Kekua was real.

“Basically, if I meet you for the first time, I may tell you, ‘Hey, I just bought a pet monkey.’ And your first reaction will be like, ‘OK. Great. So?’ ” Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood said during the NFL scouting combine in February. “It’s the same thing that happened with Manti. He told us about his girlfriend, yeah. But it’s not like we’re then going to be like, ‘OK, what’s her social security number? Where does she live? What does her mom do for a living? What grade is her little sister in?’ It was along the lines of, ‘That’s his business. I’m going to stay out of it.’ ”

Now, the question shifts to how all of this will affect Te’o on draft day. Although he was absolved of participating in the hoax, is falling for it and being perceived as gullible, immature and less intelligent any less problematic? Is there a long shelf life on a story that seems fatigued but could catch its breath and live longer than a pair of Twinkies? Is Te’o equipped to handle the situation if it refuses to die? And, finally, in light of what the Jets went through last season with Tim Tebow, is there reason to worry about the pitfalls of exposing one’s team to an exhausting hot-button story that transcends football?

“Here’s the biggest thing with me for Te’o,” NFL analyst Mike Mayock said. “Prior to this incident, from an intangibles perspective, he was off the charts. He was plus, plus, plus. People thought he might be a Ray Lewis, that kind of guy to galvanize people in the locker room. Best case scenario, he’s lost that. That huge, positive intangible is gone.”

Not so fast, says Smith.

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Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 108 2nd OT 0:37
San Antonio 109
Milwaukee 48 3rd Qtr 10:04
Portland 45
Houston 33 2nd Qtr 7:47
Denver 45
Indiana 39 2nd Qtr 4:31
LA Clippers 44
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 1 2nd Prd 9:50
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
NC A&T 55 FINAL
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
TX A&M-CC 73 FINAL
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 60 1st OT 0:52
Cincinnati 65
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 51 2nd Half 5:50
Cal Poly 47
Central Arkansas 47 2nd Half 11:38
New Mexico 52
Howard 31 2nd Half 11:59
Pepperdine 36
Portland 29 2nd Half
UNLV 28
CS-Northridge 8 1st Half 13:59
Oregon 6
Grambling St 6 1st Half 10:21
Washington 19
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
UNLV 84
NC A&T 70 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 22 2nd Half 11:51
San Francisco 38
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
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Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
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