Manti Te'o doubters wonder if Heisman was factor in hoax
Was Manti Te'o a hapless victim or a duplicitous co-conspirator?
Opinions are split on whether the Notre Dame linebacker made up the girlfriend that sports website Deadspin later unmasked as fake. But both sides hope the allure of the prestigious Heisman Trophy wasn't a factor.
"I hope this was not for the Heisman," said Eddie George, Heisman Trophy-winning former Ohio State running back and NFL star. "I can't believe that it could be.
"But if it turns out that this was done for recognition and to get publicity for the Heisman, that would be despicable, deplorable."
A lot has changed since George won the Heisman almost 20 years ago.
It's a carefully choreographed mating dance now.
Even before a season starts, universities erect billboards and create media strategies to announce to the world that they have an athlete worthy of the game's most prestigious trophy.
While touchdowns and tackles are still the determining factor, a good storyline helps for a hopeful.
And Te'o's heart-wrenching tale of determination on the face of two tragedies -- the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend -- had all the elements.
It reached its apex on September 15 when he led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 thrashing of Michigan State. He credited the deaths in propelling him in the game where he had 12 tackles, the most he had all season.
"I will be honest, throughout the game you are still thinking about it, but football allows me to be in a little realm, a little world that I know," he said afterward. "I can honor them by the way I played. It was for them, for my girl and my grandma, and for all my loved ones who have passed on."
Sports fans lapped it up.
Te'o did not win the Heisman in December, losing to Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. A win would have been historic, making him the first exclusively defensive player to raise the trophy.
It mattered little. He was a hero with a halo.
But perceptions turn on a dime. And they did after the sports website Deadspin published a piece dismissing the existence of the girlfriend as a hoax.
"Manti Teo faked having a girlfriend for Heisman Votes!!!!! #WhereTheyDoThatAT," Cliff Harris tweeted, one of many outraged fans to voice the same sentiment.
Te'o tried to clear up some of the speculation Wednesday, saying he was the victim -- "the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies."
But David Haugh, a Chicago Tribune sports columnist, said Te'o has more explaining to do.
"It doesn't add up. Obviously the explanation, it bears further explanation," said Haugh.
"I think you want to hear from Manti Te'o himself beyond the statement. Because if he is truly a victim of a cruel hoax, as Notre Dame put it, then he has nothing to hide."