The Tall Tale of Manti Teo
How This Could Happen
I met Manti Teo at the Lott IMPACT Trophy Banquet two years ago. I interviewed him again this past December, as he was a finalist both years. I watched him interact with fans, coaches, and the other finalists and found him to be very genuine. Remarkably genuine really.
And there’s no question that Teo is a natural born leader. His thoughtfulness, easy-going charm, the perspective he handled tragedy with (real or perceived), his instinct on the football field, his work ethic. He’s a rare individual. And as a young man, he discovered the reality many never live: the loneliness of leadership. When a young man is swallowed up by so much responsibility (real or perceived) and thrust into an overwhelming world of expectation that is big-time college football he’s going to need an outlet. An emotional landfill. Many big time athletes use partying, team mates and other activities as an outlet. For Teo, a voice on the other side of the phone was his outlet. He didn’t need to get involved in campus parties or typical college pitfalls because he had his girl to talk to. In a way, she was a protection for him and one that he instinctively and desperately thought he needed.
Growing up in a sheltered, small-town of 6,000 is going to inhibit some social development and being tossed into the lions den of Notre Dame football where a soft-spoken, innocent, trusting young kid was surrounded by grotesque adulation, suffocating expectation and unrealistic pressures, Teo had that voice. A person who understood the rigors of pressure because of his football background and that of his family’s and could placate to Teo’s insecurities and reassure the young man of his abilities perpetuated that voice.
In a way, it was the perfect storm: a knowledgeable predator found a needy kid. So as the relationship developed and Teo became more and more invested, more and more dependent on the emotional outlet, the predator, Tuiososopo, expanded his understanding, and perhaps, felt somewhat rewarded for helping Teo through the years. Don’t forget, Tuiososopo is a young man from a football family whose career hadn’t taken off and he was instrumental in helping a national star excel. While Teo certainly received emotional bolstering, I’m sure Tuiososopo did as well.
My theory (and it’s only that) of when things went sideways began in the 2011 season as Teo’s fame grew, Tuiososopo likely began to wonder how this would end and perhaps concluded he needed to get out of the hoax. Meanwhile, Teo’s stories of his amazing girlfriend grew as people wanted to know more about her, his mind filled in details where reality couldn’t.
At the start of the new season, the predators decided it needed to end and conceived the leukemia storyline to sever the tie. What they didn’t anticipate was the media’s attachment to the tragedy and Teo’s storytelling ability.
The thing is, sports writing is usually teetering on hyperbole. It’s why sports fans love sports, at times; it’s equal parts legend and reality. Fairytale and fact. So when fairytale took over and lacked any semblance of fact, sports writers were well acquainted with the one anyway, and seamlessly perpetuated the fairytale. Until Deadspin revealed the bizarre facts.
The Fragility and Power of the Mind
I think he thought she was real. I guarantee there were red flags, but like any one who’s been in an abusive relationship, they’re ignored for the sake of preservation. This kid is one who willed a team to national prominence. The power of the mind is something to behold. When it wants a reality bad enough, if it can’t be real, it will simply construct enough circumstance to conclude it is real. He became so dependent on the emotional outlet that the details of her existence, or lack thereof, became irrelevant to him. The fragility of the mind is something to behold. When it needs a reality to exist, it can delude itself into ignorance and use selective inclusion to sustain that reality. I think that’s what happened here. A strong willed young man, in desperate need of emotional support and protection constructed a false reality and convinced himself of it. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
It’s the same one-track, sold-out mentality that delivered a perfect regular season for Notre Dame. And when that was crushed by the revelations of fact, Teo, the team, had doubt. And the game against Alabama was never within reach.
Far Too Much Investment In the Private Lives of Athletes
Perhaps another caveat to consider is how blurry we’re making the line between private life and public life for public figures. Especially college athletes. Whether its oozing affection for A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend or the out right fabrication of Teo’s, these are kids supposedly trying to get an education and be student athletes. They aren’t getting paid. They aren’t representing corporations on behest of hefty paychecks. They’re kids. The media has no right to intrude into their private life and fans should understand that line should be far thicker and blacker than it is now. With the development of social media, mainstream media that should be adhering to ethical guidelines for information dissemination is now reacting to frivolities that go “viral” so they can attract ratings.
Jim Murray once said, “I find people hate to be informed… People need to be shocked, titillated, or angered.” That was written before social media. Well before Twitter reduced news to 140 characters and punch lines. The problem is not that people want to know, the problem is that the media is willing to placate to the public’s want to know rather than the public’s right to know. There’s a big difference.
What To Take Away From This
Teo is not like Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, or other cheaters who deluded themselves to achieve never-before-seen levels of success. He was a kid who was the victim of a predator and who’s strong will created the perfect storm for that predator. I hope he recovers emotionally and his family can help him firm up his grasp on reality.
I also hope sports fans, writers and media, recognize the invasion of privacy perpetrated on young college kids and consider reforming their coverage.Read More
We all know about the devastation leveled on the preeminent player that graces the cover of EA Sports Madden NFL, but one player facing a bad year is nothing compared to watching an entire franchise plummet into the abyss that is “The Super Bowl Curse.”
A city might earn hundreds of millions in economic revenue, but it can cost the NFL franchise a year of futility to host the Super Bowl.
Don’t believe me? Let’s start with the obvious and look at the Saints. A team that went 13-3 last year. Saw an off season of unprecedented scandal, an interim head coach, an interim-interim head coach, then started the season 0-4, fought to 5-5 only to get hammered by a backup quarterback at home to fall to 5-6. They then faced a daunting schedule to finish out and despite the fact they are hosting the Super Bowl, will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
After the Colts stumbled to an 0-13 start, I got thinking, “Wow, one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises chose a bad year to face plant into futility…” No team had won more games in a decade than the Colts did between 2000-2009. They were coming off a season where they had tied the NFL record for most consecutive playoff appearances, were looking to own that record and host the world’s largest single-day sporting event. And then Manning can’t play for the first time in HIS LIFE and the goose egg showed up in the win column for 13 straight week. Still not convinced?
The Cowboys were happy to show off Jerry’s World to the planet in 2010. What they didn’t account for was going from an 11-5 record in 2009 to crushing pressures collapsing Tony Romo’s clavicle and the team into a 6-10 season as they watched the Green Bay Packers turn the 6th seed into a Lombardi Trophy.
Need more? Miami has hosted it’s fair share of Super Bowls and received some cruel punishment because of it. 2006 the Dolphins were 6-10, hosted the big game and paid for it with a 1-15 season in 2007. The solution? How about a big time turnaround for the franchise with Tony Sparano. In 2008, the team rebounded to an 11-5 record, shocked the NFL by winning the AFC East. Sure they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, but when 2009 opened up, this team was looking to build on ’08 success and once again host the Super Bowl. They went 7-9 that year. Haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.
And it’s not just recent history either. The 1980 New Orleans Saints were up for the task of host the Super Bowl. They were coming off an 8-8 campaign in 1979, then promptly went 1-15 in 1980 and still hold the second longest losing streak in NFL history at 15 games.
Below is a list of every Super Bowl, the host team and how they faired. Turns out, in 46 years of this game, only 21 teams that hosted the Super Bowl ended the same season with a .500 record or above. Only 10 teams made the playoffs, the last being the Buccaneers in 2000. Only 2 have played in the Super Bowl and ONE team in NFL history has hosted and won the game. That’d be the 1984 San Francisco 49ers when the game was held at Stanford.
So Jets fans, you think THIS year is bad. Wait until your team is officially the Super Bowl host franchise. (Giants will likely be the exception to the rule. They usually are.)
Nothing better than the back end stretch of the NFL… This week we have some teams that could begin a surprise playoff push, some teams are looking to begin their lockdown of a division…
If you’re familiar with the term “Norved” you know the first tenant of any team getting Norved is they have to be pretty good. There must be hope if hope is to be dashed. This is the game where the Chargers showcase WHY this season will be a giant disappointment because the Chiefs, despite moderate talent, are in complete disarray, Rivers will regain his control, Mathews will score at will. Chargers win by 2 tds.
I know everyone is chanting MVP for Manning and while his comeback is a great story for the NFL and the Broncos, I still see many of his throws coming out of his hand very loose. I don’t see his trademark laser and subsequent accuracy. So this will be an issue as the Broncos progress and approach the post season, but I don’t think it’s enough to lose to the Bengals. I like AJ Green and Andy Dalton. While most of the attention goes to Cam Newton- Dalton has displayed why the Bengals chose him over Carson Palmer. Still Manning is 7-0 all time against the Bengals and while the Broncos are 1-2 on the road and I think they’ll struggle a little bit, the Broncos win by 4.
This seems like an easy game to pick, but it’s not as simple as it seems. Trent Richardson is going have a huge game against the Ravens who are allowing an average of 110 rushing yards to the opposing starting running back the last 3 games. No team is run on more than the Ravens, and only the Buffalo Bills have allowed more rushing touchdowns this season. The Browns defense is better than the Ravens defense. Read that again… But I think the Ravens offense is far superior and should be up and running this weekend in Cleveland. Ravens win.
If you thought the Niners win over the Cardinals was bad. This could be much worse. The Cardinal defense, it’s pass rush and linebacking corp is only as good as it’s ability to tackle. Which was sorely lacking Monday night against the Niners. The only bright spot in this matchup is the Packers aren’t playing with a full deck of cards. Not a fantasy darling this week, but Packers win.
Texans coming off a bye. Foster has fresh legs. Bills allow more rushing touchdowns than any other team in the NFL and it’s not even close. Texans win. By 3 touchdowns.
Love this game. First, BOLD PREDICTION: the winner of this game WILL be an AFC wildcard. One of these two teams, offscouring of the NFL to start the season, both with rookie quarterbacks, new head coaches and in divisions with dominant teams, will make the playoffs. When you look at the Colts’ remaining schedule, you’ll find only 2 teams that have winning records waiting, the Patriots and Texans. The Colts play Houston twice in the final 3 weeks of the season. If the Texans have the #1 seed locked up by then, they’ll likely rest their starters and that gives the Colts a chance to add some wins and earn a playoff berth. The Dolphins have a tougher schedule, featuring the Patriots twice, Bills twice and a trip to San Francisco. So it’s tougher for the Phins, but I’m going on the record, if the Colts beat the Phins, they will be in the playoffs. Colts win.
If I’m Lions fan, I tell my cardiologist to be on-call every Sunday. The fact the Lions only trailed by 3 with a little over 5 minutes left at home against one of the NFC’s stingier defenses was a gift for Detroit. They normally trail by 3 scores. 3 points was nothing. And they proved, once again, why they’re a favorite team to watch. The fact Blaine Gabbert launched the ball 49 times against the Packers means the Jags’ game plan didn’t work and the team was in desperation mode. They’ll be there again. Lions win.
I keep thinking the Bears will come back down to earth- read: Jay Cutler will implode. They almost did against the Panthers. Now on the road against a Titans team that is not good, having given up 30+ points in 6 of their 8 games and winning only 2 of those contest. BUT the Titans 3rd win of the season came against a Steeler team, at home. Makes you think anything is possible. Or makes you think Bears put up 35 points, and their defense scored 2 tds. Bears win.
Kinda pains me to say it, but I like the Raiders team when they don’t beat themselves. Problem is, they do that a lot. The Bucs are coming to town after demolishing the Vikings, taking Minnesota out of it’s game plan. Some would say the Vikings inexplicably gave that game away, and while there’s a case to be made for that, I’d say the Bucs learned from their loss to the Saints and took it out on the Vikings. The Bucs offense has parts that make you drool and the Raiders, coming off a win over the Chiefs could regress. Bucs win.
If the Vikings were playing in Minnesota, this would be a tough game. But they aren’t. This is an impossible game. Absolute lock. Seattle wins.
Shockingly enough, two iconic franchises, 2 rings for each team in the last 7 years and the last time the Steelers were the guests of the Giants was before either other them won a Super Bowl in the last millennium, 12/18/04… In other news, thought the Steelers played the Redskins really well. But I also thought the Redskins were overrated and expected the Steelers to win. The Giants tried really hard to lose to the Cowboys, but Romo wouldn’t let them. I think the Gmen are primed to rebound from a terrible game in Dallas. Giants win.
Many thought the Falcons would lose to the Eagles, they promptly eviscerated the Eagles’ pride. Many think the Cowboys can beat the Falcons…. I thought the Cowboys defense played really well despite losing Sean Lee and going up against a potent Giants offense. IF, IF!, Jason Garrett actually learns to rely on a running attack, this could be the Falcons first loss. But if Romo throws the ball more than 35 times, the Cowboys lose. DeMarco Murray is still in question, and Felix Jones was a disaster on 13 carries against the Giants. But the Cowboys have to stick with the run, the Falcons achilles heel, only 6 teams in the NFL give up more rushing yards and touchdowns than Atlanta… Still, I don’t think Jason Garrett will get it. Falcons win.
Sorry Eagles fans, the Saints defense is studdly, stingy and formidable. Just kidding. It’s terrible. Wet Kleenex watches in pride as the Saints prime-time schedule exposes their defensive futility for the world to see. They give up more than 30 points a game, 474 yards per game and just for context, the Buffalo Bills, the second worst defense in the league gives up 50 fewer yards per game. The Saints allow 6.7 yards a play. So if Philly doesn’t win THIS game, they should add the Eagles to the Thanksgiving Turducken. Eagles win.
Def. Norved – v. 1. To have everything perfectly in place only to have everything go horribly wrong. 2. To snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 3. To inexplicably, but predictably and consistently fail in new and creative ways.
I’ve been writing letters to Webster’s for years begging for the inclusion of the word “Norved” into our vernacular. So while man cave, energy drink, gassed, and f-bomb all snuck in before Norved, I have faith this season in San Diego will provide such compelling evidence, the good people at Merriam-Webster’s will not deny me any longer.
The San Diego Chargers first got Norved – literally – when GM AJ Smith fired then head coach Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season in 2006 and hired Norval Eugene Turner, February 2007.
Here’s HOW you get Norved. There’s a distinct pattern. As you’ll see, its rather impressive in it’s consistency.
#1- You MUST have talent. The more, the better. The more likable the Turner, the easier it is to get Norved… Because getting Norved isn’t about having a jerk of a head coach, bad drafts, or picking up lousy free agents. No, that just means your franchise stinks. To be Norved properly, you need nice people, firm belief in success, and abundant talent on both sides of the ball.
Like most fan bases, the Charger faithful welcomed their new head coach, with some skepticism, but mainly optimism. Sure, he had a career losing record, but they had the best offense and third best defense and even though Cam Cameron (OC) and Wade Phillips (DC) left to take head coaching jobs in Miami and Dallas respectively, Charger fans concluded, with the talent on the field, a change of guard could surely return the franchise to the Super Bowl.
That next season, 2007, the Chargers started slowly, rebounded in the back end of the season to amass an 11-5 record. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, was a new career high number of wins as a head coach for Norv. A team that regressed 3 games on the season led the man to new heights. Way to set the bar high AJ, ‘preciate that.
That year, the team made it to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the Patriots who were bulldozing the entire NFL on their way to the Super Bowl (which they lost to the Giants). So Charger fans wrapped themselves in a warm blanky and rested on the notion their team was closer than it was in ‘06. Sure the Patriots punted the Bolts out of the playoffs, but they actually won 2 whole playoff games, that’s 2 more in Norv’s first season than Schottenheimer delivered in his 5-year tenure ( Schotty was 0-2- but both Charger losses came by only 3 points each. One to the Jets in 2004, the other to the Pats in 2006). Clearly the team, ranked in the top 5 in nearly every meaningful statistical offensive and defensive category had sufficient talent to go the distance. And that’s the first tenant of being Norved. But the second….
#2 – You have to make mistakes. It’s not enough to have another team beat your team. In order to be properly
Norved, the damage must be self-inflicted. So let’s look at that 2007 AFC Championship game in Gillette to see if the Chargers’ first season under Turner classifies as getting Norved.
a) Tomlinson didn’t play. Groin pull. He was in the starting lineup, ran twice for 5 yards.
b) Tom Brady threw 3 interceptions that day and the Chargers scored all of 4 field goals.
c) Rivers was 19 of 37, no touchdowns and threw two picks. His first, led to a Patriots touchdown after 2 plays and 24 yards.
The final was 21-12. Chargers, the league’s 5th best scoring offense couldn’t score a touchdown. However, that’s still not enough to be classified as Norved. When facing down a juggernaut, there’s no shame in admitting defeat. Even if ugly. However, when facing down a beatable division foe, when you have a 24-0 halftime lead at home in front of the nation… logic may point to victory, Chargers’ just get Norved.
If you witnessed Monday Night Football, that was a particularly breathtakingly efficient Norving of the Chargers. Usually, a team needs 60 full minutes to gak all over their shoes like that. The Chargers managed it in only 30. Up 24-0, they allowed 35 unanswered points. Rivers threw 4 interceptions. They lost the game despite a 4 score lead at half. They won the TOP war by 7 minutes, allowed Denver only 25% on third down conversion and lost by 2 scores.
Now, granted, Peyton Manning is adept at 4th quarter comebacks, and if it were that simple, we’d chalk this win up to Manning’s greatness. But it’s not, so we can’t. Manning threw for 3 TDs. That was the extent of the Broncos offense, which equals 21 points. Clearly not sufficient to overcome a 24 point deficit. The other 2 scoring plays came from the Broncos defense: a pick-6 by Chris Harris and a fumble recovery by Tony Carter that went 65 yards to the house. And I know you must be thinking, “Yeah, that Carter, he’s a stud… he’s always getting big plays on defense…” Or you’re not, because that was the dude’s SECOND career fumble recovery and FIRST touchdown of his 4 year career. That’s called getting Norved boys and girls. This isn’t Ed Reed or Charles Woodson or Troy Polamalu picking Rivers and making the Chargers look silly, these are journeymen defenders coming up big as the Chargers shrink in the limelight.
And while that’s bad, it’s all made worse by the final and perhaps most egregious aspect of getting Norved…
#3- Emotionless head coach… Jim Harbaugh does dumb stuff, Rex Ryan makes boneheaded moves for us to criticize and call out, but, BUT, you will not find their teams getting Norved because they SHOW EMOTION! There’s people around them that require windshield wipers, there’s damage done to ear drums, they exhibit visceral and instinctive emotion customized for the instant.
Then there’s Norv. no emotion no sense of urgency or reason to feel anything but the breeze and perhaps decide whether ryan mathews should be rushing or jackie battle will suffice… WAKE UP NORV!
As the Chargers are getting their butts handed to them, shots of Norv Turner on the sidelines make you wonder what color curtains he’s picking out. Perhaps he’s deciding between chartreuse or champagne, but he sure doesn’t look like he’s in as much searing pain as the fans watching at home.
So that’s when you turn to your buddy and say, “We’ve been Norved.” Shake your head and move on with your day.
The Chargers have sufficient talent to break out of the AFC West. But they keep crumbling when adversity hits and their leader stands stoically on the sidelines allowing the miscues to sink the ship… and watch out Cowboy fans, just because your head coach has a last name that would be clumsy to make into a verb doesn’t mean it’s not happening to you. Even with Jason Garrett on the sidelines, that pit in your stomach, it’s from getting Norved weekly.
Turner is a great man. Extraordinarily likeable and wonderful to be around. But the franchise has had enough Norvings to last a decade. Time to move on.
FULL DISCLOSURE ON VIDEO: I might be a little biased. In 2010, I made 2 separate bets with my radio producer at the time, Tom Riesgo, who is a Raiders fan. I bet the Chargers would beat the Raiders both times. I lost both bets. And stood in front of a whip cream pie firing squad. I can still hear the fake dairy product in my ears.
The Colts’ 30-27 win over the visiting Green Bay Packers was far more than numbers on a scoreboard. It represented the victory of hope, a celebration of inspiration, the evidence of powerful vision. Most of all, it was real.
The world of sports is decorated in hyperbole and myth, sure, the foundation is X’s and O’s, and players and coaches, but the conversation around sports is largely fairy tale. More so, this world is set up to be knocked down. Heroes vault into our lives only to watch a flawed reality unravel a perception of greatness.
For the sports media, for fans, for many of the participants, it’s about a story. Telling it is great. Watching it is better. Living it, well, that depends on what kind of “story” it is.
When I spoke with Mark Herzlich, New York Giants linebacker, at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, we discussed his painful chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries and road to recovery. It was probably the thousandth time he recalled his journey, but he could still taste the chemicals those treatment pumped into his body. He was gracious and open, honest and inspiring, knowing his communication could lighten the path for another fighting cancer. But in many Americans’ minds, this was a man who had been a hulking specimen of collegiate All-American strength, reduced by a type of bone cancer to a 60-Minute special. He said to me this past April, “Everyone tells me what a great story I’ve got. But to me, it’s not a story, it’s my life.”
So while some media types say they root for “the story” and not for individuals or teams, I’m going to tell you the opposite. I root for life. For reality to be better than a story.
So here’s where the Colts found their head coach Chuck Pagano: Diagnosed with Leukemia last week, the Colts, individual men and women, understand that means vicious doses of chemotherapy and radiation pummeling the man they respect professionally and care for personally. These individual men and women also understand there’s no guarantee Pagano returns to them. But they understand their hope matters. They know their faith counts.
Here’s where the Colts found the franchise: Coming off a bye week after suffering a division loss in the 3rd week of a new season, starting a rookie quarterback earned from one of the most failed seasons in franchise history, taking the field against a team that in the previous year won 15 games and posted record numbers on offense. They trailed 21-3 at halftime. Andrew Luck was sacked 4 times, Aaron Rodgers none. The Packers looked like they would demolish the Colts as many prognosticators predicted and move onto Week 6.
Here’s where the Colts found the strength: Their leader. Pagano, a man owner Jim Irsay said is someone other men aspire to be like, instilled a will in his team to fight. To create opportunity from question. To forge a path from quicksand. Not in theory, but in reality. The fact he’s doing that on a daily basis, in a hospital, hooked up to machines that beep and gurgle strange audibles has nothing to do with football, but everything to do with his team.
Receiver Reggie Wayne had career high 212 yards on 13 catches and a touchdown. Luck was not sacked in the second half as he led his team to victory while the defense brought Rodgers down 5 times, all in the second half.
Of course football is just a game, the outcomes etched in stats and record books will always be replaced in time. But the reality of life, the lives of the individuals we come to know through this game reverberate far beyond than those stats and records. As Herzlich said, it’s not a story, it’s their life.Read More