INDIANAPOLIS — In the most anticipated event of the NFL Scouting Combine, Notre Dame’s notorious linebacker Manti Te’o on Saturday did what he could to make the best of an unprecedented situation.
The latest hurdle for Te’o to clear in the fake dead girlfriend saga that has dominated sports and news coverage for weeks was to speak in front of a sea of football reporters from all over the country.
And Te’o handled it with dignity.
“Has the whole sordid episode been embarrassing?” Te’o was asked.
“When you’re walking through grocery stores, and you’re giving people double-takes to see if they’re staring at you, it’s definitely embarrassing,” said the 6-foot-1, 248-pounder. “It’s part of the process; it’s part of the journey. It’s only going to make me stronger and it definitely has.”
But Te’o says he’s gotten past the embarrassment and hopes he’s close to putting one of the most bizarre sports stories in history in the rear view mirror so he can focus on football.
“If I was still embarrassed,” he told more than a hundred reporters, “would I still be standing in front of you?”
Every NFL team Te’o has or will interview with during the combine wants to hear, in his own words, the story of how he fell in love with a “girl” he never met and never existed. He’s become accustomed to explaining how the charade that allegedly duped him went on for so long.
“Just I care for somebody, and that’s what I was taught to do,” he said. “Ever since I was young, if somebody needs help, you help them out. Unfortunately it didn’t end up the way I thought it would.”
Te’o hopes his draft stock will not plummet because teams might be suspicious of his naiveté or dishonesty or both. But that won’t be known until April 25 — or the 26th, if he falls out of the first round.
Te’o said the hardest part for him was the way it affected his family.
“The toughest moment was a phone call that I got from my sister where she told me that they had to sneak my own family in their home because there were people parked out in the yard,” he said. “Something that I’ve always had a problem with is when I can’t do something about it. To know that my family was in this situation because of the actions I committed was definitely the hardest part for me.”
Te’o struggled to understand how people could be so uncaring.
“Just why?” he thought. “It should never get that way. Would you want somebody doing that to your son? Would you want somebody doing that to your daughter? Since I’ve experienced it, I try to always think ‘That’s somebody’s son. That’s somebody’s daughter. That’s somebody’s mom or dad.’”
The anguish he endured has taught Te’o a lesson.
“I’ve learned just to be honest in anything and everything you do, from the big things to the small things,” he said. “Secondly, to keep your circle very small and to understand who’s really in your corner and who’s not. I just learned to appreciate the people that I have that are with me and to just make sure you always try to turn a negative thing into a positive.”
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