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Trolling Te’o

Mar 2, 2013, 9:28 AM EDT

2013 NFL Combine Getty Images

With the NFL Scouting in the rear view mirror, the focus of the NFL juggernaut will now shift to free agency, set to open in roughly ten days. As it’s been with the professional game, we’ll see blockbuster moves — big money contracts going to players that seemed destined to finish a career in the city where they started, only to see thirty-million guaranteed reasons to reconsider.

And perhaps that’s a good thing for Manti Te’o. Because the NFL Draft’s most high profile prospect, and the one with the most ready-made story to write, found himself in the crosshairs daily, getting Tebow-like interest on SportsCenter, while easily being the most written about athlete in Indianapolis last week.

At one point, SBNation’s Andrew Sharp lampooned the attention, penning an article with the title, “Manti Te’o can’t outrun his past at the NFL Combine,”

Here’s a quick snippet:

Manti Te’o ran the 40 on Monday and finished 20th of 26 linebackers in Indianapolois. He stumbled to a 4.82, and he knows it wasn’t good enough. “I was running near a 4.6, a 4.5,” Te’o explained afterward. “Today was just a long, long day.”

Maybe he was weighed down by his conscience.

Or hey, maybe not. I’m not here to call anyone a liar.

We’ll never know the truth of what happened with Lennay Kekua. All I know for sure is the ghosts caught up to Manti on Monday. Maybe you saw a 40-yard dash, but I saw a kid who can’t outrun his past. The weight of the whole experience slowed him down. Looking back now, if Manti was going to spend his nights talking on the phone to an imaginary person, maybe he should’ve called Leon Sandcastle. At least he could’ve gotten some useful advice for the combine.

Instead, Te’o called his time in Indianapolis an “exhausting process” when it was all over.

You know what else was exhausting?

Trying to make sense of his story the past few months.

The column read as a composite of the last month of headlines about Te’o, a joke not caught by many fans that had read all but the same thing by columnists that this fall had hailed the linebacker as one of the best, and most complete collegiate players of the past decade.

But two forty-yard dashes run two-tenths of a second slower than many expected, has suddenly made people forget that the reason Te’o was so well known this year is more for the statistically ridiculous season he had, not because of any hype machine that created him. No imaginary dead girlfriend can intercept six passes and make over 100 tackles.

Still valid opinions vary on what happens with Te’o. Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver had some really strong quotes from an NFL head coach about Te’o, that makes you question the logic of at least one team’s draft board.

“Of all the people here at the combine, the one person you don’t want to be is him,” the unnamed head coach told Silver last weekend. “Seriously, I’d rather have six positive drug tests, a DUI, a domestic-abuse charge and some theft incidents than have to deal with all the questions that guy’s going to face. He’s going to be probed by most of the teams, and all of you guys, until his head is spinning. Trust me, it’s gonna be brutal.”

There’s little doubt why that coach didn’t want to be identified after throwing out that preposterous statement. But it also perfectly plays into the machine that’s been spinning so strongly since Deadspin broke the original story that struck at the foundation of Te’o.

And while it’s been easy for those that only saw the two-minute puff pieces and SportsCenter segments, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King painted a different picture of the former Irish linebacker after spending a week in Indy culling information. He even caught up with the man most responsible for Te’o being at Notre Dame in the first place, Nevada head coach Brian Polian.

“The reason I’ve been so upset at how Manti has been portrayed is that I know him. He doesn’t conspire to trick anyone,” Polian told King. “The people who would be so cynical, so jaded or such Notre Dame-haters simply don’t know him. You have to see how he grew up. He lived in a little town on the North Shore, where everyone knows everybody. Then he goes to a prestigious private school and, I’m not going to lie, he was sheltered. Then he goes to Notre Dame, and there aren’t many places that protect and shelter their students like Notre Dame. This whole story happens, and he’s guilty of one thing: trusting some sicko, because that’s what he does, he trusts people. He’s not jaded, he’s not worldly, he’s naïve. So he trusts someone who doesn’t deserve to be trusted, then he’s totally embarrassed by it when he finds out it’s phony. Really, what is this kid’s crime?”

For those that have spent four years following Te’o, that’s continued to be closer to the stance that I’m comfortable with. But then again, I just want the story to stop. For Te’o, that’s a little bit closer, with only a Pro Day left before he’s taken in the NFL Draft, and becomes just another former college star making a living playing on Sundays.

Until then, if you can’t deal with the Te’o trolling, do yourself a favor and exercise your ability to ignore it.

 

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