In the end, the pull of Johnny Football, and the traditional voting preference for an offensive player, was too much for even Manti Te’o to overcome.
But make no mistake, Saturday night’s Heisman Trophy ceremony was another celebration of Te’o’s excellence this season, an award that’s aspirations were all but defined by Notre Dame’s star linebacker’s excellence on the field and courage off of it.
Still, Heisman voters handed the victory to redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel rather emphatically, with Manziel garnering 474 first place votes, easily besting Te’o’s 321 and Kansas State quarteback Collin Klein’s 60. The young quarterback who dazzled voters with a highlight reel that featured incredible runs and sterling passing numbers, carried every region of voting except for the Midwest. His victory over No. 1 Alabama likely overshadowed any missteps, whether they be off the field arrests or three-interception games.
Before anybody loses sleep mourning the loss for Te’o, consider the effect the Hawaiian linebacker had on college football this year. Heralded all week for his tremendous season, Te’o’s trophy case won’t miss the bronze stiff-arming ball carrier, as it’ll be filled with the Bednarik, Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards. That’s the most awards a defensive player has won in college football’s history, surpassing Heisman winner Charles Woodson, who took home five postseason awards in 1997.
Almost more impressive was the effect Te’o had on the crowd in New York Saturday evening. The room looked like a Hawaiian Luau, with the room filled with leis and traditional Hawaiian beads, decor even worn by Manziel’s family. Sure, the trophy is heading to College Station. But in a room filled with some of the biggest legends of the college game, Te’o’s stamp was all over. It’s hard to find a truer sign of respect than that.
In the end, Te’o was likely done in by the voters who kept him off their ballot completely. Te’o’s 321 first place votes was the second-most for a Heisman runner-up ever. Whether those voters thought there were three better players than Te’o in college football or didn’t believe a middle linebacker is deserving of college football’s most prestigious trophy is largely a moot point by now.
Second place will never be confused with the winner of anything. But with Te’o leading the Irish to the national championship game, and Notre Dame’s heart and soul representing the school and college football with such dignity, it’s hard to call Manti Te’o anything but a winner.