INDIANAPOLIS — Manti Te’o walked into a crowded room of reporters Saturday, took a breath and settled in for 15 minutes of NFL scouting combine history.
Again, the former Notre Dame linebacker explained how he had been duped in the Internet romance he had with a girlfriend he never met, and again, he tried to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter by talking football. This time, he even got to see it play out on live television 12 yards away — where three muted flat-screen monitors were in direct view of Te’o.
He answered every question with thoughtful deliberation and tried to provide clarity on a hoax that turned one of the nation’s most inspirational football players into the butt of national jokes.
“I cared for somebody. That’s what I was taught to do ever since I was young. Somebody needs help, you help them out,” Te’o said.
Later he added: “People doubted me because I took a while to come out. From our point of view, we wanted to let everything come out first, and then let my side come out. The way we did it, I thought, worked best for me.”
Te’o’s news conference was the most anticipated event of the NFL’s second-biggest offseason weekend, which brought the makeshift media room inside Lucas Oil Stadium to a virtual standstill — twice.
The too-good-to-be-true story began with Te’o’s incredible performances after learning his grandmother and what he believed was his girlfriend had died within hours of one another in September. Te’o said it inspired him to play his best football all season, and it was so compelling that it turned Te’o into a Heisman Trophy front-runner as he was leading the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season and into the national championship game.
On Dec. 26, Te’o notified Notre Dame officials that he had received a call from his supposedly dead girlfriend’s phone three weeks earlier.
The school investigated and on Jan. 16, athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced at a news conference that Te’o had been duped. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, later said he created the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te’o said he fell in love with despite never meeting her in person.
Since then, Te’o had only done a few one-on-one interviews.
On Saturday all that changed as many of the 800 credentialed media members surrounded the podium in rows that went eight deep. Te’o wore a tie-died red-and-black workout shirt.