LOS ANGLES — I don’t know what to think about this Manti Te’o situation, to be completely honest. I’m starting to write this at 4pm pacific time on Thursday and in the last 24 hours I’ve consumed about as much as humanly possible, talked about with friends and colleagues, seen the jokes and speculation on Twitter and I’m about as confused as I was when I first read the Deadspin story Wednesday afternoon. With what is known as of this moment, and all that I’ve read, I think he was 100% complicit and sold this narrative to the media to its fullest because he liked the attention and he wanted to win the Heisman. That’s just what I think. Maybe it started out as a joke and then when the national media got wind of it, it was too late and he got caught too deep in the lie to come clean; he was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Maybe. But there’s no chance he didn’t know. None.
There are other theories floating across the Twitterverse and blogosphere and talk radio and the like, and sure, those make some kind of sense to me too, but being in this business for nearly 10 years and being around high school, college and professional athletes of all ages, levels and backgrounds, I’ll believe the crazy and outlandish because I’ve heard tales of things I couldn’t possibly imagine could be true, but they were. One-hundred percent. Truth is stranger than fiction, just remember that, and sports is the ultimate reality show. In Te’o’s situation, we all missed. We were all caught up. We all wanted Notre Dame to be good again because they are the country’s university and when they are good and playing at an elite level College Football is more interesting. And this was a college football season for the ages.
The public and the media were the ones duped and we were duped by Manti Te’o and his cronies.
If and when the truth comes out and this is proven to be not the case, I’ll admit to being wrong, but I just don’t see how me and others are. The holes in his story and Notre Dame’s are too big. The timeline doesn’t add up. Pete Thamel’s notes and transcript is there to read and shows a guy not even knowing what he’s saying. It’s remarkable. Read the Deadspin story again. And then again. It’s incredible. And now we wait.
(update: so it’s Saturday afternoon now and Te’o has spoke to Jeremy Schaap on Friday and seemingly explained everything, that he was embarrassed and told a lie to his dad, which begat more lies, and he tailored his story to match what was going on. Sounds a lot like lying to me. Watching Schaap on SportsCenter late Friday night, it seemed to me like he believed Te’o, which I find fascinating. And apparently, Te’o didn’t really believe it was a hoax until a couple days ago when Ronaiah Tuisosopo confessed via Twitter to making it all up. But how does this explain him finding out on Dec. 6 and then not telling Notre Dame for 20 days and then him talking his girlfriend in the days leading up to the National Championship game. And then this whole she faked her death to avoid drug dealers story, and he believed that?! Is Te’o the biggest moron in the world? This is the strangest, most bizarre story I’ve ever seen. Who the hell knows what’s true.)
Onto the NFL and what should be two fantastic Championship Games this weekend in Atlanta and Foxborough:
It appears that I’m once again the lone wolf rolling with the Falcons, which suits me just fine. There has been A LOT of noise from the 49ers Hype Machine in the last week after Colin Kaepernick went video game on the Packers in the Divisional Round. And rightfully so. What he did was beyond spectacular. I wondered if it was as surprising as Michael Vick going into Lambeau to beat the Packers in the 2003 playoffs, because for me, I was just as shocked when I saw his final stat line, and because I thought the Packers were starting to peak and looked like a team primed for another Super Bowl run. But Kaepernick stole the show and is playing like seasoned playoff veteran, not a QB who’s only started half the year. There’s been a lot of Brady/Bledsoe comparisons lately and for me, they’re a little unwarranted. Brady isn’t nearly the athlete CK is, he started basically the entire year in 2001 after Mo Lewis knocked out Drew in Week 2 and the game itself so much different than it was 11 years ago. CK is a new-age quarterback. Athletic. Versatile. Mobile. Cannon for an arm. He can make all the throws and if your rush breaks down, he’s proven he can take off and go to the house.
When it comes to the Falcons, it begins and ends with Matt Ryan. He reminds me of a young Peyton Manning with how much he commands their offense, audibles at the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid to take chances in order to make big plays. Ryan takes grief for throwing interceptions, but to me (and not having won a playoff game which is now moot), throwing interceptions is a combination of not being afraid to make mistakes and get the ball to your receivers in tight spots and misreading your coverage. Ryan takes those chances. No guts, no glory. Atlanta took chances deep against Seattle, had a couple pay off, and they’re going to have to do it again in order to stretch out the 49ers defense. It’ll be interesting if Jim Harbaugh chooses to take away Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez and try and let a Michael Turner/Jacquizz Rodgers run game try and wear them down. Atlanta’s defense can’t really stop anybody, so I’m expecting a shootout.
Prediction: Falcons 27, 49ers 24.
I can’t lie: as a Patriots fan, this Ravens team scares the beejezus out of me. They’ve just seemed to have the Patriots number, dating back to the 2009 Wild Card, when they flew into Foxborough and beat up Tom Brady and mopped up the turf en route to a 33,14 trouncing. That game was just two weeks after Wes Welker went down with a knee injury and Brady was terrible, throwing 3 interceptions and getting sacked 3 times. In 2010, Brady was the league’s MVP and the Patriots defeated Baltimore 23-20, and in 2011 New England was again victorious in last year’s memorable AFC title game by the same 23-20 margin. This year, in Week 3, the Ravens eeked out a 31-30 win when Justin Tucker’s field goal maybe sorta I guess went through the right upright as the clock hit zeroes. But these are different teams playing now than 16 weeks ago. The Patriots are better defensively and can run the football, but are without Rob Gronkowski, and the Ravens are riding this emotional Ray Lewis wave that has carried them to a pair of playoff wins thus far. This has turned into the NFL’s best rivalry (San Francisco and Seattle should be good for a long time), the two teams clearly don’t like each other and Joe Flacco has shown a knack for coming up big in the playoffs on the road. He now has 8 playoff wins in 5 seasons; just one win shy of Peyton Manning for his career. And, as he showed last week, he can throw the deep ball and that’s what scares me. He’s going to take chances with Torrey Smith, who torched the Patriots back in Week 3. If New England doesn’t give up an big plays and keeps Ray Rice in check, then it shouldn’t be a game. A very big if.
For the Patriots, it begins and ends with Tom Brady. A year ago, he was out played by Joe Flacco in the AFC Championship Game; in Week 3, the same. He’s arguably the greatest modern-era quarterback when it matters: the playoffs. He passed Joe Montana with his 17th win all-time last week. A win Sunday and he’d be the only QB in history to reach a 6th Super Bowl. Adding lines to his legacy is not what drives him, being the best is. The best play their best with the moment is the biggest. This is a pretty big moment in front of him. Not having Rob Gronkowski doesn’t worry me; the team has played a good portion of this season without and only scored one less point-per-game. For me, the Patriots have to have a balanced attack offensively. Hurry-up when necessary, but a solid running game will go a long way to building and preserving a lead. Defensively, gotta get pressure on Flacco and not give up the deep ball. All of New England will be holding its breath when No. 5 lets that ball fly on Sunday, because he will and often, and it won’t exhale until it falls down. Incomplete. Let’s hope this one doesn’t come down to a field goal. Again.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Ravens 21.