Every good story requires a beginning, a goal, challenges that impede its achievement and a gripping conclusion. The Manti Te'o saga has the first three categories in spades, and it's the unknown future that makes his story the most compelling, and the most controversial, in the 2013 NFL Draft.
His story provokes the entire gamut of thoughts and emotions in people. There are those who can analytically pick apart his game, there are those who feel for him and there are those who snicker.
But why do you snicker? My guess is your mistakes aren't covered by the never-ending news cycle that takes in heroes and spits out myths.
The current complicated case wasn't always the story on Te'o. Things weren't always as messed up as they currently are.
The Hawaii native has always been in the limelight, although the attention paid to Hawaiian football players doesn't touch the scrutiny associated with the Golden Dome.
When it comes to recruits from the Pacific island, nobody prior to Te’o reached such an astonishing level of fame. He garnered national honors as well as local awards naming him either the top player in the country or the best defender of the past decade.
His impressive resume led to offers from every coaching staff with a brain. Te'o narrowed it down to USC and Notre Dame, before denying the West Coast rival for Touchdown Jesus.
Notre Dame was entering the swan song of the Charlie Weis era, but Te'o's freshman season shouldn't be considered a bust. He played in every game while earning a starting position early on. He played slightly out of position on the outside, and earned a Freshmen All-American nod.
Teo's sophomore year brought a move inside and marked the beginning of a sharp ascension. He was named to Sports Illustrated's All-American Second Team and blasted off from there. He notched multiple All-American selections the following season while leading the Irish in tackles for the second straight year.
The above is all well and good, but Manti Te'o began his journey to becoming an American hero on December 11, 2011, when he shunned the NFL for collegiate glory. And that's exactly what he found.
The Fighting Irish stormed their way through the regular season undefeated, captivating the entire college football world with incredible finishes. Te'o was always front and center as the defense led the way.
He racked up accolades at an unnerving rate after posting 113 tackles, 11 passes defensed and a head-turning seven interceptions, according to sports-reference.com. He was at the height of his linebacking powers and destined for a first-round selection.
But that isn't why he became deeply loved and admired all over the country. It was his resilience in the face of so much adversity that captured our affection.
Te'o lost both his grandmother and girlfriend in what appeared to be an extremely painful 24 hours. Despite those losses, Te'o committed to his team by not missing a down against Michigan State that Saturday. We gushed over his bravery, and more than a few tears by men Te’o had never met were explained away as the product of allergies.
Te'o gave us a reason to believe in something greater than ourselves. Once a picture of him illuminated by beams of light from heaven on the field in East Lansing went mainstream, we were smitten.
If only real-life stories didn't come with the challenges. Maybe we could have all gone on happily while mothers gushed about that kid from Notre Dame.
But that's not how it works.
First, there was the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama. Notre Dame was no match, and Te'o looked extremely ordinary as Eddie Lacy torched him on multiple occasions. He didn't look sharp or focused, and we'd soon find out why.
In the meantime, people started to look back at all those interceptions and realized that a lot of that was being in great position as opposed to making a great play. It was now a question of whether all those picks were the result of the scheme or Te'o's recognition.
However, the question of his playing ability would soon be overshadowed by his supposed character deficiencies when news of a novel scandal broke. Deadspin's Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey blew up the Internet when they released the story that shocked everyone save for a few people in South Bend. The girlfriend that Te'o had been grieving wasn't dead; she was non-existent.
After experiencing a range of emotions, the public started to ask questions. How long had he known? Did he have a hand in Lennay Kekua's creation? Was this all for publicity? If it was truly a hoax, why did he perpetuate the lie once he knew?
Every question was fair, with the exception of those that concerned his sexuality.
Lastly, as if to cap this horrible sundae with a putrid cherry, the NFL combine put a broken Te'o on display. Jokes about his speed began making the rounds on Twitter as he posted a slower-than-expected 4.82 40-yard dash.
The best part of this story is that it isn't done. There is still time for new reports to surface, for a shocking tell-all account that sheds more light on what has happened, and for Te'o to recognize his potential as a game-changing linebacker.
Recently, Te'o recovered some lost ground on the path toward a first-round selection with an improved 4.71 40 at his pro day. Thus, there will be plenty of people on both sides of the arguments regarding Te'o's physical merits. Is he quick enough? Fast enough? Can he bring down NFL running backs since he struggled so mightily against Bama?
But the bigger story line will always be about Manti Te'o, the person. We've all invested too much energy and time into his personal tale. Every media outlet, not just those affiliated with sports, will cover when he is drafted because the event is now mainstream news. That type of attention will always lend a hand in creating controversy. It's inevitable.
To recap, there are plenty of questions surrounding his physical abilities, his character and his mental fortitude. Debates will rage until the kickoff of the 2013 NFL season, if not longer. Can you name another player in this draft that commands that type of attention? I doubt it. That's why Te'o wears the controversy crown.
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