(MCT) — MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Manti Te’o slowly wended his way off the field in the midst of Alabama players raucously celebrating winning the national championship.
The look on the Notre Dame linebacker’s face appeared to be one of disbelief, perhaps brought on by the cataclysmic way the Irish’s magical season had ended at the hands of the Crimson Tide, or maybe it was the realization that Te’o had played arguably his worst game of the season when quite the opposite was needed.
It was a stunning end to Te’o’s college career and certainly not the way he envisioned before taking the field Monday night at Sun Life Stadium.
“It definitely sucks, to be quite honest,” Te’o said not long after Alabama’s 42-14 dismantling of the Irish. “But I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. I wouldn’t do anything differently. Obviously, we wish that the night could have ended in a different way. But the season, the year, my career here, I’ve been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame. I’ll forever be proud to say that I’m a Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Regardless of what happened (Monday night), I’m proud of my team.”
Like everyone else on the Irish defense, Te’o was caught up in a Crimson tidal wave as Alabama’s offense punished a Notre Dame unit that had been stingy all season. Te’o had three solo tackles and assisted on seven others but could do very little to stop Alabama from rolling up 529 yards of offense.
“I’m obviously disappointed, not necessarily all that we lost, but just we didn’t represent our school, our team, our families the way that we could have,” said Te’o, whose next stop will be the NFL after leading the Irish with 113 tackles this season. “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. The best thing about this experience is it creates fire. It creates fuel for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving. And everybody here (Monday night) will be better because of it.”
Despite the ignominious ending, Te’o left a strong legacy at Notre Dame and helped the program return to the upper echelon of the sport.
“For Notre Dame to get back here, we had to have a Manti Te’o,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters late Monday. “You couldn’t do it without him in the sense to really restore the program, you had to have somebody that represented the values of the program and the university and played the way we wanted to play. He was the embodiment of that.
“Decades from now we’re going to be thankful to Manti for what he did to turn this thing around.”