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For the legend of Te’o, awards don’t matter

Oct 18, 2012, 2:15 PM EDT

Te'o Victory Stanford

Whether or not Manti Te’o ends up a Heisman Trophy candidate is hardly the point.

But you can’t blame many of us looking for ways to quantify the senior linebacker’s greatness, both on and off the field. At a position where stats only tell part of the story of a player’s dominance, midseason All-American nominations, Sports Illustrated covers, and glowing national columnists profiling the Hawaiian leader of the Irish don’t necessarily miss the point, but they largely don’t do Te’o justice either.

That Te’o is a terrific football player, the best defender to play at Notre Dame in countless years, isn’t what makes him the subject of just about universal praise. It’s that greatness combined with the stoic determination he has shown in the face of mind-numbing adversity, showing a grace and composure when talking candidly about grieving two personal losses, and putting into perspective what football has meant to him throughout all of it.

That’s what makes just about everybody, including Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, rave about Te’o’s leadership.

“Unquestionably, as a leader, there has not been anybody in my 22 years who has been a better leader both on and off the field, and represent the kind of ideals you want in college football,’’ Kelly said. “And I don’t think it’s close.’’

The decision to return for his senior season, made without family deliberations or NFL advice, set the table for Te’o’s legend to build. But his exemplary work both on and off the field this fall, and the mutual admiration that he shares with Notre Dame and its community, has put him on a pedestal we haven’t seen in decades.

In an era where sporting icons seem to crumble by the week, a 21-year-old Mormon athlete from Hawaii is forcing his way onto Notre Dame’s Mount Rushmore.

“Time will test this, but I think when we look back 10 years from now, he’ll be at the very top of that list,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. “He’ll be with Montana and Huarte and Brown, Hornung.”

“Not only was he great, not only was he a member of a very good team, he had that once-in-a-lifetime intersection of who a person is, and who the institution he represents is. The match is so perfect it feels preordained.”

The most recent example of that intersection wasn’t on Saturday night, where his eleven tackles helped stop Stanford in their tracks. It was during a media blitz, where Te’o spent 15 minutes with sports talk icon Jim Rome. The interview spent some time on football, but delved deeper into the personal struggles Te’o has dealt with over the past few weeks, and the resolve and faith inside of him that has gotten him through the difficult times.

For a talk show host that’s made his living talking with interesting guests, it’s no small feat that Te’o floored Rome just like he has hundreds of ball carriers.

“I am speechless after that conversation with Manti Te’o,” Rome tweeted yesterday to his 933,170 followers. “One of the most astonishing, inspiring conversations I’ve ever had with an athlete.”

The tweet spread like wildfire across the internet yesterday, echoing across the superhighway more than a thousand times. Interviews like this will only help push Te’o’s candidacy for postseason awards and recognition to new heights, doing more for Te’o than any campaign launched from under the golden dome.

But in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Whether or not Te’o heads to New York for the sports most prestigious award doesn’t matter. Whether or not he continues to will an Irish team with a mediocre offense to improbable victories, isn’t going to quantify what makes Te’o great.

While the Irish defense continues to hold opponents out of the end zone, don’t expect any debates to stop. But with just seven games left in his collegiate career, don’t let the minutiae get in the way.

Manti Te’o is a special football player. And an even better human being.

Leave the rest of it to somebody else.

***

  1. canadianirish - Oct 18, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    While I only remember ND Football back to the mid-80′s, I am of the opinion that he is THE greatest player to wear the gold and blue I have ever seen. For as great as he is on the field, he seems to be even greater off of it.I have no doubt that Manti was at least partially responsible for many of the stellar freshman and sophmore defensive players ND has coming to the school. No matter how this year ends, his legacy at ND will linger for many years after this.

    Thank you Manti!

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      Just the most natural ILB I have ever seen find the ball. Not a pass rusher, just a great ILB that knows how to get to the ball from sideline to trenches and his pass coverage has been amazing since shedding some wieght and letting ankle heal after last season.

      An emotional leader, a physical leader, a warrior to have on the field.

      Off the field I don’t feel anyone has to even explain …

    • nudeman - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      No disrespect to Manti who I love, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say greatest I’ve ever seen (I’m 58). In my opinion, no one had more game breaking, electrifying talent than Rocket.

      If he had a coach who didn’t come from the Woody Hayes school of offensive imagination, he’d have won absolutely everything and set every imaginable record.

      • dmacirish - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:24 PM

        really dude, was that appropriate here?

      • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        I hear your argument and raise you a few points:

        Teo came from bad Irish teams, bad QB play, Defense was horrendous when he arrived.

        With his maturation as a player the whole defense and program changed.

        The great ones make everyone around them better, regardless of position or side of the ball.

        The QB is almost always a CFB teams leader, not the case for this team.

        He is in a Hiesman race playing ILB … let that sink in and google search that.

        The Rocket was an unquestioned ***Talent …. Teo is an unquestioned ***Football player

        I would say Rocket & Tim Brown played on top tier teams …you really need to consider the mountains Teo has climbed at ND in 4 years.

      • 1notredamefan - Oct 18, 2012 at 8:04 PM

        Goodness! It’s not about who electrifies a person or who can run the fastest… I think what people are delving on in this situation is his ability to be a deeper more profound person than any they have come to know in their and my menial life! It’s his inner beauty that makes his outer work seem like art…

      • nudeman - Oct 18, 2012 at 9:26 PM

        dmac
        I see nothing inappropriate about my post. In no way did I say anything negative about T’eo. He’s a fabulous football player and an even better person. Someone said he was the greatest he’d ever seen at ND. In my opinion, Rocket was the greatest. What’s wrong with that?

        1notredamefan
        The point I was making was not about anyone as a person or their “inner beauty”. I don’t disagree that T’eo exceeds all in that area, but my point was about football.

      • dmacirish - Oct 19, 2012 at 10:42 AM

        nudeman i think that your response shows why it was inappropriate because this was not as much about football as the rest of the life also.

  2. glynis1979 - Oct 18, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    I don’t know if he’s the greatest player ever, but I’ve never seen a kid come to Notre Dame and be overwhelmingly admired for both his actions on and off the field quite like Manti. He’ll leave one of the most revered players ever to wear the blue and gold. And if he can somehow pull the offense along with him to at least a BCS bowl or, dare we dream, the NC game, he’ll become a legend–someone who will make us wag a finger in our grandchild’s face and say “If only you could have seen Manti play.”

    Well, said, Keith. Sit back and enjoy these last games.

  3. tburke9601 - Oct 18, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    Absolutely great interview! Great player! The best in a long time if ever at ND! God bless you Manti.

  4. ndirish10 - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    WOW!!!

  5. yogihilt - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    The only scholar/athlete that, in all my years of college sports, who seems to be on a to-good-to-be-true level with Manti, is the Heisman winner of 1973, John Cappelltti. Here is his Heisman speech… a real tear jerker http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YdgWihXJvE

    Google him and you may see another super human being.

    Go Irish

  6. mtflsmitty - Oct 18, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Obviously, I dont know Manti. His gene pool and a lot of hard work have made him what he is. But I get the sense that the combination of sense of humility, willingness, and a deep faith in God have made him who he is.

  7. seamus0317 - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    I loved what he said on Strong of Heart…the NFL is a goal, not my dream. This young man gets it!!!!!!

  8. kiopta1 - Oct 18, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Just listened to the Te’o interview with Jim Rome and this young man continues to amaze me. Such an inspiration.

  9. sinister23 - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    He won’t win the Heisman people….he’s a fantastic player, just not on that level

    • yogihilt - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM

      Fantastic is what the Heisman is.. thank you

      • heisenbyrg - Oct 18, 2012 at 6:22 PM

        Sinister is correct. The Heisman is a de facto offensive award. For a defender to be mentioned as a candidate is a huge honor.

      • nudeman - Oct 18, 2012 at 9:30 PM

        He is definitely a Heisman caliber player and deserves to be a finalist. And there’s a chance that if something really exceptional happens in the last few games where he in particular stands out in a big way (massive # if tackles and a couple big INTs, etc), he could win it.

        But the odds are against him because he doesn’t play with the ball in his hands. It’s that simple

      • bernhtp - Oct 18, 2012 at 9:44 PM

        I predict that Interviews like this one with Rome will turn a lot of heads and get voters to think out of the box. Manti is a compelling story, especially with a resurgent Notre Dame. If ND and Manti keep on their roll, I believe he has a legitimate shot at the H.

  10. bearcatirishfan - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    I disagree, respectfully, sinister. He is that level of player, while I don’t think he will win the his man because it’s skewed towards offense, I can’t think of a player that mean more to a team, and is as productive as he is it’s just not in touchdowns. He is no less of a player or has less impact than ndomukun suh (sp) was the year he got invited to New York.

  11. kiopta1 - Oct 18, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    The heisman is kind of a joke to me now cause it isn’t an award to the best football player or team leader. It’s about who is the most popular offensive player. That’s all. I just think it would be a shame if Manti isn’t at least invited to New York.

  12. 1notredamefan - Oct 18, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    It is his inner beauty that makes his outer work seem like art!

    • Jennifer - Oct 19, 2012 at 11:14 PM

      1ndfan…Beautifully stated. You’ve captured the essence of his talent and aura in that one short sentence. Not many football players, (or anybody, for that matter) can be so succinctly described in just 13 words. Thanks and Go Irish!

  13. irish2011 - Oct 18, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    Is there a link to that interview someone can post here. Thank U

  14. irish2011 - Oct 18, 2012 at 9:48 PM

    Any chance someone can post a link to that interview with Manti and Rome. Thanks

    • nudeman - Oct 19, 2012 at 5:25 AM

      dude … google

  15. irish2011 - Oct 19, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Lol…sorry I was at work yesterday and being lazy. As always Nude thx for your words of wisdom!

  16. fnc111 - Oct 19, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    And the 2012 Heisman winner is ….. Mantiiiiiii Te’oooooooo.

    That’s the bottom line.

  17. 1historian - Oct 20, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    He’s obviously a terrific player and a fine young man but can we please stop short of deifying him? Granted he has come through some severe trials in his personal life this season in exemplary fashion but I would argue that there are many people who have gone through trials just as severe and come through just as well who don’t have the benefit of the all-knowing all-wise Notre Dame publicity machine to make sure everyone in the damn universe knows about it.

    The Heisman is named after a coach who stood on the sideline one day in 1916 and watched the Georgia Tech team HE coached run up the score on Cumberland College to the tune of 222-0.

    Look it Up. Google ‘John Heisman’.

  18. fitz79 - Nov 1, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    Te’o is my favorite player. God Bless you Manti! And may your final 5 games in the blue and gold be among your best!

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