COMMENTARY | OK, there was nothing fake about this.
Manti Te'o is beyond all the grief now. No longer is the former Notre Dame Butkus Award-winning linebacker living in the past or in the shame of a pseudo relationship.
When Te'o made his NFL debut Sunday, he put to rest nine months of scrutiny, following his fake girlfriend and a whirlwind of unraveling twists that drew the nation's attention for some quirky, yet ridiculous reason. The same reason, mind you, so many people are glued to "Keeping up with Kardashians." Drama sells, apparently.
But in this reality show, it wasn't about fake girlfriends or socialite drama. No, this was Te'o's coming-out party in the San Diego Chargers' win over the Dallas Cowboys in his rookie debut. Te'o sat out the first three weeks after winning the starting inside linebacker job in training camp with the Chargers. Te'o didn't do anything spectacular in his first pro game. He had three tackles, which is hardly anything for the former Notre Dame All-American to write home about. Not to Hawaii, nor to Southern California, where his fake girlfriend was personified to have lived.
Point is, now he can finally begin putting the past nine months of living through what was a lie to rest. In San Diego, that laid-back approach to life suits Te'o, his Hawaiian upbringing and a much-needed reprieve from the past year perfectly. By getting back to what he does best, making tackles and running down ball carriers, maybe now Te'o can start to become a football player again, instead of a drawn-out "Catfish" story.
Fact is, the last time we saw Te'o in a real game was Notre Dame's BCS championship meltdown against Alabama. It was from that deflating moment of his storied Fighting Irish career that the doubters crept in. Obviously, the Chargers were dissuaded. No, three tackles does not make a good feel-good story. But for Te'o, it's probably better that way. Had he made 10 tackles and picked off a pass or recorded a sack, he might have had to answer questions he would've rather avoided after making his NFL debut.
Te'o, a Polynesian who grew up in Laie, Hawaii, whom San Diego now calls Hawaii 5-0, recorded a tackle on his first snap on the field.
"I was just relaxed, and focused," Te'o said in an interview reported by ESPN. "And luckily I got a tackle my first play in, and that go the rest of the jitters out. After that, it was just football."
That's all it's been for Te'o since he landed in San Diego. The Chargers haven't let the erstwhile Notre Dame star have nearly the publicity he received while living under the Golden Dome. And Te'o has put his focus on trying to acclimate to the speed of the NFL.
"I haven't really had a chance to go anywhere," Te'o told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I barely know my way around this area. I'm just constantly focusing on what I need to be focusing on right now."
In other words, he hasn't been doing much Internet surfing.
Jim McCurdy covered Notre Dame football while living in the Michiana area. He has written for major publications around the country. Follow him on Twitter at @irishcurds.
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