Manti Te’o faces media at combine, holds up well
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org February 23, 2013 9:04PM
Updated: March 25, 2013 7:01AM
INDIANAPOLIS — When he arrived for the most anticipated news conference in recent combine memory, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o appeared nervous and admitted he was tired after a long day.
But the Heisman runner-up, who said he’d never been in front of so many TV cameras, rebounded and impressed during a 15-minute Q-and-A Saturday with 200-plus reporters crowded around him in the Media Center at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He acknowledged that the catfishing scandal has been embarrassing, that he’s viewing it as a great growing experience and even that he played poorly in the national championship game (“That’s all on me,” he said).
The media and public, however, aren’t the ones he needs to win over.
It’s the decision-makers of the NFL’s 32 teams, and by Friday afternoon, he’d only interviewed with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans. A source with one of those teams said Te’o was genuine and didn’t come across as defensive during his visit. Te’o said he has 18 other teams on his schedule.
But one of the general managers who planned to speak to Te’o wasn’t concerned about the fake girlfriend or anything else related to that ruse. He wondered less about the past and more about the future —the immediate future, that is.
“What I want to know is: How is he going to handle his first month in the locker room?” the GM said.
In other words: How will Te’o handle the relentless ribbing from teammates?
Te’o said he’s not worried about how he’ll be treated by teammates.
“I think I’ve learned the difference between the things I can control and the things I can’t control,’’ he said. ‘‘And hopefully by doing the things I can control well, I’ll have more favor in the other category. Whatever team I go to, I’m just going to be me.”
Diplomacy doesn’t reign in most NFL locker rooms, where players rip one another for personal and professional missteps. If you don’t handle the torment in stride, teammates might respond by ramping up the abuse.
Te’o might be naïve and immature, but there’s no disputing he’s bright, so he’ll likely handle the GM’s issue with grace and patience.
As one general manager said at the Senior Bowl, Te’o didn’t “embezzle money, beat his girlfriend or get a DUI.”
The concern, of course, is the dishonesty, which Te’o addressed Thursday.
“They want to be able to trust their player,” Te’o said. “You don’t want to invest in somebody you can’t trust.
“With everybody here, they’re just trying to get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand where they’re coming from.”
At the peak of Te’o-mania, there was speculation he could be a top-10 pick. But several NFL evaluators and coaches told the Sun-Times they never projected him to go that high. One NFC personnel executive said he’s concerned Te’o might not be big enough and doesn’t hit with authority.
Presumably, Te’o wouldn’t mind answering such questions.
Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway said he doesn’t get “caught up in everything that is swirling around him.”
“I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to him,” Elway said. “I know him as a football player. He’s a very good football player.
“He’s going to have a successful career in the NFL.”
Te’o will address the hoax, but he’s looking forward to selling NFL decision-makers on himself.
“I think what I bring to the table is a lot of heart, a lot of energy and somebody that works hard, somebody who hates to lose,’’ Te’o said.
‘‘For teams, I tell them, ‘You’ll always get somebody who’s humble, works hard, doesn’t say much and will do everything it takes to win.’ ”
Te’o said he’ll visit with 20 teams at the combine, but that doesn’t mean 12 aren’t interested. Those teams might prefer to get Te’o away from the chaos and into their facility, where they can privately visit with him.
But the defensive standout dropped the defensive posturing just in time, embracing a chance to move on from this regrettable episode.
“It could be a hurdle, but it could also be a great opportunity to show who you really are,” Te’o said. “That’s the way I’ve approached it, and it’s been a great growing experience for me.”