Hutton: Manti Te’o gets special sendoff he deserved
By MIKE HUTTON email@example.com Twitter: @MikeHuttonPT November 17, 2012 11:34PM
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o acknowledges the applause of fans as he leaves his final home game late in the fourth of an NCAA college football against Wake Forest game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: December 19, 2012 4:04PM
SOUTH BEND — Time to give poor Charlie Weis a high five for something.
He brought Manti Te’o to Notre Dame.
The crowd at Notre Dame Stadium went wild when the most famous college middle linebacker in America, running out last for senior day, tossed his helmet to the ground and hugged his father at midfield.
This was the moment Te’o had waited for and played for since last year when he turned down the chance to put his name in the NFL draft.
He wanted to feel the rush of emotion surging through his body as he raced through the tunnel and onto the field.
He wanted to feel the love from his family and the crowd, many of them wearing leis in his honor.
He wanted to properly finish what he had started.
He wanted to play one last time at his stadium, in front of his fans, wearing blue and gold. This much is clear: This is Te’o’s team.
The Irish have many great players on defense but none have captured the spirit of the place in a transcendent way like Te’o. He is a priceless, walking advertisement for the team. His value beyond what has happened this year so far cannot be underestimated.
The dream — that it would go this well, that Notre Dame would be 11-0, that a national championship was within its field of vision — was just that. A dream. Some kind of fairy tale, really, after the Irish finished 22-16 in his first four seasons.
It’s all very real now.
On the field, there was a game to be played — one that quickly turned into a routine blowout for the Irish on the field. It was the kind of routine demolition of a team they haven’t had for years at this place. It was the kind of beat down they were starved for.
Give Weis credit for something. He couldn’t coach them up but he sure could find them.
Without Weis and his recruiting coordinator, Brian Polian, who logged 8,500 miles chasing Te’o, according to CBSSport.com, there would not be a nearly unprecedented push to make a middle linebacker the Heisman Trophy winner. One time Weis flew out to Hawaii, roughly nine hours in the air, just to watch Te’o play. It was a dead period. That meant he had to turn around and fly back without talking to him, according to a story on UND.com.
Without Teo, the Irish almost certainly would not be chasing a national championship for the first time in 19 years.
Without Teo, the program most certainly would not be trending back toward blue chip territory beyond this year.
Without Te’o, the Irish wouldn’t have what Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe called probably the “best defense in the country.”
John Walters, a writer from New York, said it best in a series of tweets this week: Te’o made it cool to play for Notre Dame again. A whole generation of young players have forgotten how good Notre Dame was once.
Te’o is taking care of that problem for the next generation.
How cool? Well, I watched Jaylon Smith, a linebacker from Fort Wayner Luers and a Notre Dame recruit play this weekend. He is rated as the top outside linebacker in the country. He is an absolutely unbelievable high school player. He watched, in the stadium, with a lei on. My 15-year old daughter lights up like a lantern when raving about Te’o.
Te’o arrived for his postgame press conference completely covered in leis, passing out sour apple candy, choking back tears as he talked about his experience. He came back for one more season because he wanted to do the senior walk. He came back because he was enchanted by the whole spirit of the place. He came back because he was always unconventional about how he rolled, choosing ND over USC even though no one from Hawaii ever went to Notre Dame to play. Never. Ever. All the great Hawaiian players went to USC.
“I’ve had a lot of highs and lows but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said. “I’m just glad I was able to make my family proud and bring Notre Dame back to where it’s supposed to be.”