Notre Dame Football was just a month into its season when a story about linebacker Manti Te’o emerged and followed him to the BCS National Championship Game.
Te’o played with a heavy heart after hearing that his girlfriend died of leukemia, shortly after the death of his grandmother.
His grandmother’s death was real, but the girlfriend isn’t.
Sports website Deadspin exposed the truth with a lengthy article on Wednesday.
It turns out that Te’o realized what was going on right after Christmas and told Notre Dame officials.
But the school kept quiet as the team prepared for the BCS game that took place weeks later.
“From the outset, we established a parameter that this was Manti’s story to tell,” said Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. “We wanted to know it would be told. We wanted to know at the appropriate time when it would be told, but that it was his to tell.”
Notre Dame responded by saying Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax.”
“The single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust again in the same way in his life,” said Swarbrick.
“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating” said Te’o in a statement.
In September and October, Te’o told reporters that a 22-year-old Stanford University student named Lennay Kekua was his girlfriend.
He said that Kekua and his grandmother had died within hours of each other.
“I miss ‘em, but I know that I’ll see them again one day,” Te’o told ESPN, after a victory over Michigan State.
Deadspin said it started its own investigation after it received an anonymous e-mail.
“There’s no evidence of her existing in any way, other than, you know, after she had allegedly died. And we thought that was a little weird,” said Deadspin’s Timothy Burke.
Notre Dame says Te’o’s relationship was only online and on the phone.
“Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed,” Deadspin contends. “There was no Lennay Kekua.”
But the love story was too much for the mass media to pass up.
The South Bend Tribune in Indiana reported that the couple met after a football game in Palo Alto, California, in 2009.
Te’o’s father, Brian, was quoted saying, “They started out as just friends. Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”
Media reports indicate the parents never met Kekua.
But another football player said he did.
Former Arizona Cardinal Reagan Mauia told ESPN that he and Pittsburgh Steeler star Troy Polamalu met her in American Samoa.
“This was before her and Manti,” Mauia told ESPN. “I don’t think Manti was even in the picture, but she and I became good friends. We would talk off and on, just checking up on each other kind of thing. I am close to her family.”