Do the Vikings believe in Te'o?

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2013 - 8:48 PM

Since going from squeaky-clean Heisman Trophy runner-up to popular tabloid fodder, Manti Te’o has been picked apart by the Vikings and others.

hide

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o waits for the snap during the second half of Notre Dame’s 21-6 win over Boston College in a NCAA college football game in Boston. Te’o is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File) ORG XMIT: NY151

Photo: Winslow Townson • Associated Press ,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

More than 10,000 college prospects have been selected since the NFL began its draft 78 years ago. None sent general managers scrambling to gauge the toxicity of a 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 most when draft day serves another sugar rush to hyperactive NFL reporters who can be more annoying than children chirping, “Are we there yet?” from the back seat of a cross-country car ride.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, a man who has stockpiled five Fighting Irish players since 2008, comes armed with the 23rd and 25th picks and a giant void at middle linebacker. He’s done his due diligence and definitely has interest in Te’o, who is expected to be selected somewhere in the bottom of the first round.

In case anyone has forgotten this odd saga and can’t wait until being bombarded with it again Thursday night, Te’o claimed 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.”

The trouble begins

Sept. 12, 2012, was the day the Te’o tale 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 post-game 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.”

  • related content

  • NFL draft preview: Linebackers

    Sunday April 21, 2013

    The hot topic: What’s the worry factor on Georgia’s dynamic duo?Forget for a moment the Tim Tebow-sized circus that’s expected...

  • Draft experts differ significantly on where they think Manti Te’o will be drafted this week. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN, for one, has him going to the Chicago Bears with the 20th overall pick.

  • Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones works out for NFL football scouts during Georgia pro day, Thursday, March 21, 2013, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago WSox - LP: J. Guerra 2 FINAL
Cleveland - WP: B. Shaw 3
Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano 3 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 6
Miami - LP: B. Hand 1 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 9
Washington - WP: T. Roark 10 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick 3
Toronto - LP: R. Dickey 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Price 3
St. Louis - LP: C. Martinez 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta 11
Boston - WP: C. Buchholz 11 FINAL
Houston - LP: B. Peacock 0
Detroit - LP: J. Verlander 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 5
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 10 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 7
LA Angels - WP: T. Skaggs 10 FINAL
Texas - LP: S. Baker 7
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 4 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8
San Diego - LP: T. Ross 0 FINAL
Los Angeles - WP: H. Ryu 1
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 13 FINAL
Colorado - LP: B. Anderson 5
Oakland - WP: S. Gray 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1
NY Yankees - LP: C. Whitley 1 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: K. Gausman 3
Portland 0 FINAL
Seattle 2
Winnipeg 34 FINAL
Montreal 33
Ottawa 11 FINAL
Edmonton 27
Calgary 34 FINAL
Toronto 15
Brt Columbia 26 FINAL
Saskatchewan 13
Los Angeles 90 FINAL
Connecticut 64
Seattle 60 FINAL
Minnesota 77
San Antonio 61 FINAL
Phoenix 90
Chicago 79 FINAL
Atlanta 81
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 pm
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pm
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
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: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close