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.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close