Rewarding week for Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o
By Mark Lazerus Sun-Times Media December 7, 2012 6:40PM
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, left, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, two of the three Heisman Trophy finalists, pose with the Heisman Trophy during a media availability, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 in New York. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is the other finalist. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Heisman trophy ceremony
Where: Best Buy Theater in Times Square, New York City
When: 7 p.m., today
Updated: January 9, 2013 6:12AM
NEW YORK — Manti Te’o stepped over the wires from two dozen cameras, navigated his way through the three dozen reporters and plunked himself down in a high-back leather chair for his umpteenth interview session of the week.
For once, though, he didn’t need to double-check his schedule to see where he was — was it Charlotte for the Nagurski? or Houston for the Lombardi? or Orlando for the Maxwell? — because this was the Big One. New York, Times Square to be exact, for the Heisman Trophy. A record six trophies down, one very big one to go.
He sighed before smiling and saying hello to the gathered masses. His eyelids looked heavy, having landed in New York early in the morning after leaving Orlando. As remarkable a week as it’s been for the Notre Dame linebacker — so far, he’s won the Butkus, Nagurski, Lombardi, Camp, Bednarik and Maxwell awards — it’s been just as exhausting, flying to a different city every day.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I really just want to go to sleep. But I’ve got to work out.”
Keeping himself in some semblance of shape for when he returns to campus and begins preparation for the Jan. 7 BCS national championship game against Alabama has been one of the hardest parts of awards week. Hotel fitness centers aren’t quite the same as Notre Dame’s facilities. He’s also had to show some self-control from a diet standpoint, without team coaches hovering over his every meal. At a casual Heisman lunch with fellow finalist Johnny Manziel (longshot Collin Klein was in Baltimore for another awards ceremony) and their families at Tony DiNapoli’s on Friday, Te’o had to refrain from gorging on the gorgeous spread laid out before him, wisely sampling a little pasta, some chicken parm and some bread.
“It’s about having discipline,” he said.
Besides just putting on a tux and walking on stage to accept his award of the day, Te’o’s also had to study for next week’s finals and deal with press event after press event, like the one Friday in the Marriott Marquis, just down Broadway from the Best Buy Theater, where Saturday’s Heisman ceremony will take place.
And frankly, Te’o’s running out of ways to say how speechless he is by all the honors. So if he has to give one more speech on Saturday night in front of millions of television viewers?
“I really don’t know,” he said. “When I won the Bednarik (top defensive player), I was at a loss for words. Then I found out I won the Maxwell (most outstanding player), I couldn’t even imagine that. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to win the Heisman. I’d be speechless, to be honest with you.”
But Te’o lit up when asked about his newfound friendship with Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback and presumed front-runner for the Heisman. Forging friendships with some of the other elite players on the awards circuit has been the best part of a week Te’o and Manziel each referred to as “a dream.”
“He’s a real cool guy,” Te’o said. “He’s just like all of us. We love the game, we love what it can do for our family, and we don’t like the spotlight, but we understand it comes with the territory.”
Te’o’s parents, Brian and Ottilia, even invited Manziel to visit them in Hawaii. When they told him the cliff-jumping scene from the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was filmed near their house, Manziel said, “You sold me. I’m sold. I’ve got to buy my plane tickets.”
Manziel said he and Te’o hit it off right away.
“To see how he plays on the field, with how big he is and how intimidating he is, I thought he might be a guy who’d like to stuff me in a locker and maybe beat me up a little bit,” Manziel said. “But to find out how good of a football player he is, and then to know how well we click off the football field, and how great of a guy he is, it’s been awesome to see that.”
Manziel, who wasn’t even permitted to speak to the media until early last week, said he’s been hitting Te’o up for advice on dealing with the crush. Te’o, on the other hand, has been prodding Manziel — whose signature win came against then-No. 1 Alabama — for some tips. Manziel said he’s torn, because he’s an SEC guy. But Te’o said he won’t take “no” for an answer.
“I told him that he has to tell me his secrets,” Te’o said.
As for the Heisman, well, Te’o hasn’t lost an award yet, breaking Charles Woodson’s mark of five national trophies. Win or lose, though, Te’o said he’ll be either humbled, or happy for his newfound friend.
And maybe even happier when he can finally head home and get some sleep.