What Role Did Manti Te'o's Story Play in his Heisman Run?

By Mike Atkinson
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o has surfaced in the news this week, and not for good reasons.

Te’o had one of the greatest feel good stories of the college football season. He had overcome the adversity of losing both his grandmother, Annette Santiago, who tragically died in September of 2012, as well as his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who allegedly died of leukemia shortly after.

The inspirational linebacker had an outstanding season, finished second in the Heisman race and led the Irish to a national championship appearance, all while dealing with the tragic losses.

All was well with the national perception of Manti Te’o until a report was issued yesterday stating Te’o’s girlfriend never existed.

I think we already know the background of the case.  A number of people feel as though Te’o was truly a victim of a gross hoax. However, ESPN reported that Notre Dame teammates of Te’o’s said Te’o knew the girl didn’t exist, yet enjoyed the attention he received from the story.

I bet he did. As I’ve previously stated, Te’o finished second in the Heisman voting this season, nearly becoming the first defensive player to ever win the award. Many people feel as though Te’o should never have been ranked this high in the race to begin with, as he didn’t even finish the season with the most tackles in the NCAA.

So the question has to be asked. How much of Te’o’s Heisman run was influenced by his story? One would have to think that having the type of season Te’o had under normal circumstances is impressive, but not good enough to earn a Heisman.

Te’o wasn’t just dealing with his losses, but he was having an outstanding season. This had to impress Heisman voters. Now, the truth is revealed, and I’m not so certain Heisman voters would have voted for Te’o had they known it was a hoax.

I think Te’o learned he had been hoaxed, and to avoid embarrassment and keep his Heisman dreams alive, kept quiet. He still hasn’t spoken about the incident to the media.

I guess the other thing this shows is perhaps talent alone isn’t enough for a defensive player to win the Heisman. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first defensive player to almost win the Heisman had a great feel good story.

Imagine the hoopla if Te’o had won the Heisman this year before the hoax came out.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeAtkinsonRS. Let me know what you think. Was Te’o at fault here? Or is he a victim of a cruel prank?

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