Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a phenomenal season, playing under the incredible emotional burden of the death of his girlfriend. Only now, according to Notre Dame, Lennay Kekua never existed and Te’o was the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.
The story, reported exhaustively by Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, is headspinningly intricate. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick described Te’o as the “most trusting” individual and one very big catch in a catfishing incident.
One NFL player, though, believes he met the woman in question.
Fullback Reagan Maui’a, who was on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster for five weeks last fall, said he met her, face-to-face, when he and other Polynesian teammates joined Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers on a mission to do charity work in American Samoa in June 2011.
“This was before her and Manti,” Maui’a told ESPN.com Wednesday evening. “I don’t think Manti was even in the picture, but she and I became good friends. We would talk off and on, just checking up on each other kind of thing. I am close to her family. When she was going through the loss of her father, I was — I offered a comforting shoulder and just someone to bounce her emotions off. That was just from meeting her in Samoa.”
Maui’a believes he met her at an “after-party” for the athletes.
“She was tall,” he said. “Volleyball-type of physique. She was athletic, tall, beautiful. Long hair. Polynesian. She looked like a model … ”
Told by a reporter that she seems not to have existed, he replied: “No, she is real.”