In his first interview since the "dead girlfriend hoax" was exposed, Notre Dame linebacker MANTI TE'O continued to insist that he wasn't involved, and started answering some of the many questions that came out of that bizarre story. It was a two-hour off-camera interview Friday night with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. Here's a rundown of how Manti tried to make sense of all this.
When asked: Was He Involved in the Hoax? Manti told ESPN, "No. Never. I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this, two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing." When asked who they are, he said: "I don't know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one." That's Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who's been widely reported to have been involved. Manti said Ronaiah sent him a Twitter direct message last Wednesday, where Ronaiah said he was the guy who did it, along with another man and a woman. Later that day, they talked on the phone. He confessed and apologized. Despite the fact that Manti and Ronaiah had some back-and-forths on Twitter last year, Manti says they were not friends, and that he hadn't met Ronaiah until some function last November, two months after his girlfriend's death.
When Did He Find Out That It Was a Hoax? Manti reiterated that he first discovered something was amiss on December 6th, when he got a phone call from Lennay Kekua's cell phone. (Lennay is the "dead girlfriend.") Manti explained, "She said, 'It's Lennay.' So we carried on that conversation, and I just got mad. I just went on a rampage. 'How could you do this to me?' I ended that conversation by saying simply this: 'You know what? Lennay, my Lennay, died on September 12th.'" At this point, he wasn't told Lennay wasn't real, only that she WASN'T DEAD. Manti said the hoaxers jerked around with him over the next few weeks, and kept changing their story.
Despite this, and breaking the news to his family and Notre Dame around Christmas, Manti claims he wasn't "fully convinced" Lennay didn't exist until last Wednesday, after the story broke, when he talked to Ronaiah and issued a statement.
Why Did He Continue to Talk to the Media About His Dead Girlfriend After He Received That Call from "Lennay"? He said, "I [don't] know, myself. I didn't know what to believe. All I knew for sure in my head was that she died on September 12th . . . There were a whole bunch of possibilities going through my head. She could have died. This could be [Lennay's sister] trying to pull a stunt on me."
Were the Stories That He'd Met Lennay in Person True? Manti said no . . . and admitted to embellishing the story to his family and the media . . . and suggesting that he'd at least SEEN her . . . because he didn't think people would understand how he'd fallen for someone he'd never met. He said, "I kind of 'tailored' my stories to have people think that, yeah, I met her before she passed away. So people wouldn't think that I was some crazy dude. That's my biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that's from my point of view, that is a mistake I made."
Why Didn't He Ever Video Chat with Lennay, Which Would've Proved She Wasn't Who She Was Supposed to Be? Manti said, "I tried. I often asked to FaceTime, and she'd come on and, on my side, it would be a black screen. I'd be like, 'I can't see you.' And she would say, 'Well, I can see me, and I can see you. What are you saying that you can't see me?'"
How Did Manti First Meet "Lennay?" He said, quote, "She friend-requested me on Facebook the winter of my freshman year at Notre Dame [in 2010]. And I introduced myself through message via Facebook." He said initially Lennay had a boyfriend . . . and they would talk here and there as friends, online and on the phone, but nothing serious. Then in October of 2011, it got more serious, and they were officially "exclusive" after her car accident last April.
How Often Did They Talk After Lennay Got Out of the Coma She'd Been in Since the Accident? Manti said, quote, "Every day. I slept on the phone with her every night. She had complications from the accident . . . and she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I'd have the phone on the whole night."
Why Did He Not Visit Her in the Hospital? Manti said, "It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school. I was finishing up my year and I was going home." He said he was planning on visiting her later, during the July 4th weekend . . . but his dad told him they had a "family reunion" scheduled for then, and they wanted him to be there. Manti said, "My family is my Number One thing. I called her and said I was going to see my family in Utah . . . it was very frustrating, very, very frustrating." But that was RIGHT AFTER he found out that she wasn't just recovering from a bad car accident . . . she also had leukemia. He said that happened, quote, "roughly the end of June, and early July, in that area. Yeah, around that area."
Did "Lennay" Ever Ask Him for Money? He said, "Early on, she said that SHE was going to send ME money, actually. She wanted to directly deposit it into my account. So she wants to know my checking account number, which I didn't give her. I don't care who you are. I'm not giving my checking account number out to you. Then she went on and asked my best friend, Robby. She said 'I want to help you guys out with groceries or help you guys pay for the bills for the house . . . 'I've saved up some money, you know. Give me your checking account number, and I'll put it in there.'" Manti told Robby not to do that, and he didn't.
Didn't That Alarm Him? He said, "No, because when she did that, when she asked me, I actually went to the credit union and asked them, 'Hey, if somebody wanted to put money into my account . . . And they asked for my checking account number, could they pull money out?' And they told me no. So that red flag went immediately down."
Why Didn't He Go to Lennay's Funeral? He said, "Because Lennay's funeral was the same day of the Michigan game. Before Lennay passed away, we had a conversation where she asked me if she passed away, if I could go to her funeral? I told her no, I'm not going to talk like that. She said, 'Tell me this, if anything happens, promise me that you'll send me white roses and say you'll play.' She said, 'All I want is white roses.' And leading up to the funeral, her siblings kept telling me that their mom told them she didn't want me to come. They didn't want, and I didn't want myself, I didn't want that to be the first time that I saw her was lying in a coffin. That's why I didn't go." He sent white roses to the house where Lennay supposedly stayed.
What Did He Know About Ronaiah? He said, "Ronaiah presents himself as Lennay's cousin, the only communication I had with Ronaiah prior to [November] was, Lennay would talk about Ronaiah, and how she and him were like Bonnie and Clyde: He was her cousin, her favorite cousin."
What Does He Want to Happen to Ronaiah? He said, "I hope he learns. I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."
Did All This Affect His Play in the Championship Game Against Alabama? Manti said, "I wouldn't say it affected me. 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."
For the RIDICULOUSLY LONG transcript, hit up ESPN.com . . . and hit up this ESPN.com link for more on the interview.