INDIANAPOLIS – Reality TV came to the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday afternoon.
Actually, it was the Q&A session for Norte Dame linebacker Manti Te’o at Lucas Oil Stadium. But it was unlike any of the other player interviews at this Combine, or any Combine for the matter. Long-time attendees could remember the throngs that assembled for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (2010), Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett (2005) and Auburn QB Cam Newton (2011).
But those gatherings looked like intimate one-on-one interviews compared to the treatment afforded Te’o.
The NFL Network carried the interview live, while reporters and cameras began assembling near podium C in the media center on two occasions – and hours before the interview actually took place – based on rumors that he was on his way.
And the almost-morbid fascination had little to do with his prowess as a football player. Instead, it was the next step in Te’o’s damage control after it was revealed he has been the victim of a hoax dealing with the death of a girlfriend he met on line who never existed.
The attention was so intense that several publications and outlets carried advances on Saturday morning that Te’o would talk later in the day.
He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting after leading the Irish to an unbeaten regular season, but now must work on repairing his reputation with NFL teams as they prepare for the April NFL Draft.
“They’ve told me that they’ve all just wanted to hear from me what the truth was,” Te’o said when asked what reaction he has been getting during interviews with team representatives. “They haven’t really said anything about it affecting me.”
He said he discussed the situation with one team for 30 seconds and the rest of his 15-minute session centered on football.
“They want to hear it from me,” Te’o said. “They want to know what happened.”