Regardless of whether linebacker Manti Te’o knew or should have known that his fake dead girlfriend was indeed fake and, in turn, not dead, Te’o has opted not to rely on the distraction created by his knowledge of the hoax as an excuse for his subpar performance in the BCS national championship game.
During his interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap (I’ve read the entire transcript), Te’o insists that the situation didn’t hamper his play — even after Schaap seemed to try to persuade Te’o to claim that it did.
“I wouldn’t say it affected me,” Te’o initially said.
“I know you don’t want to say it,” Schaap said, demonstrating a previously unknown ability to read minds. “But how could it not?”
“When you’re stuck in big game like that, you can’t let it affect you, no matter how much it’s weighing on you,” Te’o said. “In a big game like that, there’s people that depend on you to perform. And no matter what you’re going through, you need to perform. So in that case, I can.”
Regardless of what anyone thinks of Te’o's failure to detect the hoax or his undetermined role (if any) in it, we respect him for not taking advantage of the easy opportunity to blame the missed tackles and otherwise uninspired play on the stress he was experiencing.
Then again, maybe he’s smart enough to realize that he doesn’t have to claim that it affected his play, since so many people are simply assuming it did. Regardless, we’ve seen too many players in the months preceding the draft look for ways to devise excuses for things that happened on the field; Te’o had a golden opportunity to do just that, and he didn’t.