Manti Te’o. It’s a name we’ve associated with honor and passion for the game of football. A name intertwined with a strong faith, fearless leadership and triumph over adversity. It’s a name that many have said embodies the values of Notre Dame football. It’s the name of a man who willed his team to an improbable 12-0 regular season record and BCS Championship Game berth. And yet, here we are, just 11 days after the end of his college career, finding ourselves questioning everything we’ve ever thought of Te’o.
Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of Deadspin released one of the most in-depth investigative reports ever released from outside of major sports media, as they pieced together the story of Te’o's now infamous fake dead girlfriend.
It’s prompted media scrutiny on themselves. It’s had teammates, friends, students, administrators and fans scratching their hands and asking who’s been duped: America or Te’o? They’re all valid questions and thoughts in the aftermath of the breaking of the story.
But out west, Te’o has long served as an example of misfire. A moment when the USC brand lost out to Notre Dame’s values and faith. With the story now public, it poses the question, what would have happened had Te’o come to Los Angeles, as he wanted, and played for USC?
Fans have long used Te’o's decision to go to Notre Dame over USC as a crutch. It’s been an overused narrative, coupled with the departure of Jarvis Jones, based on every argument’s two favorite words: ‘what if’.
But now, with Lennay Kekua discovered to be as real as Art Vandelay, is the USC narrative twisted? Well, it’s hard to say.
It’s easy to say that now, using the happenings of a star player and the happenings at Notre Dame, and transposing them in a vaacum and recreating them at USC. If that’s possible, then yes, it’s good for the Trojans that Te’o didn’t put on a cardinal and gold hat back in 2009.
But, the reality is that the factors of Te’o living in Los Angeles would change everything.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged mastermind behind Kekua, is from Lancaster. The ex-high school classmate that he used as his visual representation of Kekua, lives in Torrance. Kekua was said to be attending Stanford.
Had Te’o played at USC, a long-distance relationship with Kekua would have been awfully easy to maintain, yet rather simple to debunk, given the relatively short drive from Los Angeles to Palo Alto.
It wouldn’t have taken long for Te’o to smell a rat and figure out that he was being deceived. Or, at least that would be considered to be a safe assumption to make.
With Deadspin reporting that Te’o and Tuiasosopo visited with each other when the Irish came to Los Angeles in November, it’s safe to say that the two would have had somewhat frequent encounters. With Tuiasosopo doubling as Kekua, there’s more possibilities for a failed plan with Te’o so close.
Then, of course, there’s the pictures. Could a Torrance woman really pass off as Manti Te’o's girlfriend even though she’s never met him or heard of him? The odds would say that a viral picture of a local woman would likely be spotted and tipped to the Los Angeles media, even if Te’o would have been a less-prominent star in Los Angeles than he was in South Bend.
There’s just too many factors that make the hoax seem as though it would be a long shot if it took place at USC. If the hoax doesn’t happen at Notre Dame, much less USC, the narrative remains.
The reality is that as long as the hoax muddies Te’o's name, some will sleep better at night thinking of how Te’o's tenure at Notre Dame saved USC from the embarrassment of the story. And the reality of that, is that that’s still a misguided assumption.
Unless, of course, you’re a believer of the latest Te’o theory, which alludes to Kekua’s creation as a cover up of homosexuality, as vaguely alluded to by Mike Freeman of CBS. Those sentiments remain to be purely conjecture, pitting Te’o in a conundrum of being penned as a hero or villain and flipping the whole story upside down. Judging the trajectory of this sudden-evolving story, who knows what to believe.
Either way, the ‘what if USC had Te’o’ phrase might come to an end this week, whether or not for rational reasons.