Johnny Manziel, Collin Klein, Manti Te'o
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:43AM
NEW YORK — The video tributes have been relentless, an endless parade of plaudits and praise. Every night this week, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has sat in a suit in some big room somewhere, watching highlights of his on-the-field exploits and listening to coaches, teammates, opponents and pundits extol his off-the-field virtues.
Except on Friday night, when he skipped a Heisman Trophy-sponsored bus tour of New York, and instead sat in a small NBC studio at 30 Rock, watching a live web feed of the decidedly smaller-scale Notre Dame Football Awards Show back in South Bend. That’s when he saw the video tribute that meant the most — the one that featured all the Irish seniors’ parents talking about their sons, the tears and laughs doled out in roughly equal portions. When he was named the team MVP, Te’o delivered his speech into a camera, and watched his teammates’ reactions to it on a monitor off to his left.
“To be honest with you, that’s the thing I can’t wait for,” Te’o said less than two hours before the Heisman ceremony was held in Times Square. “I can’t wait to get with my team and get with my guys again. I miss my guys.”
Te’o will return to his guys and to the grueling preparation for the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 against Alabama as the most decorated college football player ever, with six individual trophies in tow after a whirlwind week — a different city every day.
But he won’t return with the Heisman Trophy. That one, as expected, went to Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s record-setting dual-threat quarterback. Manziel became the first freshman to win college football’s highest individual honor. He garnered 474 first-place votes and 2,029 total points. Te’o had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points, the most ever by a strictly defensive player.
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was a distant third, with 894 points.
After going 12-0 during the season, and 6-for-6 on the awards circuit, it was a rare defeat for Te’o. And make no mistake, it’s an honor he wanted. “I didn’t come here to get second,” he said before the ceremony.
Te’o smiled when Manziel was announced as the winner, but later said his first reaction was, “Man, I wish it was my name. But he deserves it.”
But disappointment quickly yielded to relief (and “motivation,” he said), as Te’o — who finally squeezed in a two-hour nap on Saturday afternoon — can soon stop being Manti Te’o: Professional Award Winner and Interview Subject, and return to being Manti Te’o: All-America linebacker for the No. 1 team in the nation. The trip to Miami and the chance to play in the biggest game of his career is a pretty decent consolation prize for Te’o — one neither Manziel nor Klein gets.
And Te’o can’t wait to get started. With all the travel, all the ceremonies, and all the media sessions, Te’o hasn’t even begun his preparation yet.
“Haven’t seen any Alabama film yet,” he said. “They haunt my dreams, though.”
Te’o spent the season haunting opponents’ realities, hounding ball-carriers and harassing quarterbacks. He had seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and was the “heart and soul” — in Manziel’s words — of the top-ranked team and the top-ranked defense in the nation. He spearheaded two game-clinching goal-line stands against Stanford and USC, and he served as an inspiration for his perseverance, poise and play in the wake of tragedy, when his grandmother and girlfriend died within hours of each other before a Week 3 game at Michigan State.
But his stats simply couldn’t measure up to Manziel, the dual-threat sensation with the snappy “Johnny Football” nickname, who burst onto the national scene and into the Heisman discussion in the 10-2 Aggies’ upset of then-No. 1 Alabama four weeks ago. Manziel broke Cam Newton’s Southeastern Conference record for total offense, throwing for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“This is a moment I dreamed of ever since I was a little kid, pretending I was Doug Flutie throwing Hail Marys with my dad in the back yard,” Manziel said.
It was a great enough season to make history — and to deny it. Te’o was hoping to become the first strictly defensive player to win the Heisman. Instead, he matched Pittsburgh defensive tackle Hugh Green’s 1980 runner-up finish.
But Te’o has one last chance to make history, on an even bigger stage than the Big Apple.
“I’m relieved — now it’s time to get ready for Bama,” he said. “Heisman Trophy or national championship, I’ll take the national championship 100 times out of 100.”