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Heisman powerful motivation in Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax

MIAMI GARDENS FL - JANUARY 07:  Manti Te'o #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up prior playing against AlabamCrimsTide

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 07: Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up prior to playing against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game at Sun Life Stadium on January 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Updated: February 19, 2013 2:23PM



Holy Gipper! Call out the saints and miracle workers!

Somebody’s got to make Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend real!

What? Huh?

Lennay Kekua, the beautiful former Stanford student who died tragically on Sept. 12 — or 11th or 14th or 15th, depending on your news source — has turned out not to be a real person. The often-seen photo of her is real, but it was snatched from another person’s Facebook page.

This alleged deeply suffering, deeply noble and good-hearted Lennay Kekua, superstar Te’o’s soulmate and abruptly deceased girlfriend, over whom he has reaped limitless good vibes and indulgences from sportswriters and Heisman voters and fans and role-model seekers, is a fricking hoax.

Think of that. Like Piltdown Man and the jackalope.

Naturally, beat writers and TV reporters and even hallowed Sports Illustrated ran toward the elegantly tragic theme, rooted around in its maudlin improbability, then exploded off like dogs with pork chops.

Take this onetime “fact.’’ In November 2009, Te’o met face-to-face with Kekua after Notre Dame whipped Stanford 45-38 in Palo Alto. Not just met, but almost melted. Per the South Bend Tribune: “Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.”

Nutty, huh?

Because if the meeting didn’t occur — which it couldn’t have because the girl does not exist — then the writer himself, no doubt, got the story from Te’o. And to make up such a thing — why would this straight-laced, devoutly Mormon, endearing young man who can knock your head through your sphincter — do that? And never stop the nonsense?

Why would Te’o allow the young woman to be real for three years before she begins suffering from leukemia, gets in a violent car crash, lingers gloriously between life and death in a hospital bed and then dies — amazing coincidence — on the very day (or not) when Te’o’s real grandmother Annette Santiago actually dies.

As a veteran journalist, I have two reasons. No, three.

The hoax started as a goof with a pal of his. A Punk’d for the D-I crowd. But Te’o seems to have the humor quotient of a caveman. Unlikely.

Two, Te’o actually thought the romance, which, like everything these days, started online, was for real. (We won’t ask about sex details.) And when he found out he’d been goofed on, played like a high school geek who just received a 36-month swirlie — plus, he had played along with his own lies — he grasped for dignity and killed off the chick.

Again, unlikely. Because even we moronic press members eventually would want to see a death notice for the girl in this modern rendition of “Love Story.’’ There would have to be a movie, right?

So now it’s all about who you believe knew what when as far as digging out the guilty parties in this preposterous and embarrassing tale. A huge amount of the grunt work in uncovering the fraud was done by reporters at Deadspin.com, which posted the bizarre news Wednesday afternoon.

This whole thing is so nutsy that I believe it only could have happened at Notre Dame, where mythology trumps common sense on a daily basis. Rudy, leprechauns, ghosts of yore dance around like hallowed elves, while tales of a killed student football videographer and a student who killed herself after allegedly being assaulted by a player on this year’s stellar team go uncelebrated. Given the choice between reality and fiction, Notre Dame always will choose fiction.

Which brings me to what I believe is the real reason Te’o — and apparently his father, at least — went along with this scheme: the Heisman Trophy.

When I was talking with Te’o in the tunnel of the Coliseum after Notre Dame thrashed USC in its final regular-season game, another writer asked him what the low point of his career was.

He promptly said, “September 12.’’ The other writers nodded knowingly.

I had no idea. His grandmother and girlfriend both died, a writer hissed at me.

Da-yang, I thought. Wow. I voted Te’o first on my Heisman ballot. He finished second.

Thank God.



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