MANTI TE'O

O Captain! My Captain!

The Walt Whitman--inspired film Dead Poets Society helped steer the Heisman finalist and team captain to Notre Dame.

DAN PATRICK:I saw you on TV at the Notre Dame--Kentucky basketball game last week. It looked like you wanted to check into the game.

MANTI TE'O: I was excited to be there to support my brothers on the team. The camera was too focused on me and not on the game. That was just me having fun.

DP:Did you play hoops?

MT: I did.

DP:What kind of player were you?

MT: I was the guy the opposing coach tells his team to foul when you're leading.

DP:You have more than seven weeks to prepare for the national title game. Is that too much?

MT: I don't think so. I like having the time to get healthy and enjoy the last couple weeks of school.

DP:What if I had told you coming into the season that you'd be in the BCS title game and the Heisman race (see p. 114)?

MT: I would have told you that both are very out there.

DP:How different are you off the field?

MT: Before games I'm very intense and very quiet. When I'm off the field I'm quiet as well, but I'm more relaxed ... very laid-back. It's like night and day.

DP:How close were you to not going to Notre Dame?

MT: Very close. If signing day was 24 hours before, I wouldn't have gone to Notre Dame. I probably would have gone to USC.

DP:Did you grow up rooting against Notre Dame?

MT: I grew up a hard-core USC fan. The first Notre Dame game I [remember watching] was the Bush Push. I was crying because I thought [USC] was going to lose. When Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone, I was jumping up and down in the living room.

DP:What changed in those 24 hours?

MT: My parents always told me to live my life through faith. Whenever I have a big decision I need help with, I pray about it. I was in the middle of English class, watching Dead Poets Society. It's about a boy who wants to be [an actor] but his father wants [him to be a doctor]. I could relate to his struggle with the decision. I just closed my eyes in the middle of class. Right when I said, "Amen," I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to go to Notre Dame. Twenty-four hours later I announced it. Four years later I can honestly say it was the best decision of my life.

DP:Why do you deserve the Heisman Trophy?

MT: Because my team deserves it. Without my team, I wouldn't be a candidate. [The honor] represents them and the success [we have] had so far.

DP:What if you won it and took pieces off the trophy and gave them to your teammates.

MT: I think that would be right. They deserve just as much of the trophy as I do.

DP:So you'd take it apart?

MT:[Laughs.] Most likely I wouldn't.

DP:You could do like NHL players do with the Stanley Cup and let them each borrow the trophy for a day.

MT: That sounds like a good idea, actually.

"Phil [has the] type of résumé that when he comes into an office, whatever he says, his employees can never dispute it. Those guys are older [in L.A.] and his system is unstoppable. He would have breathed a championship ... into their soul."

—SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, TNT analyst, on why the Lakers should have hired Phil Jackson

GUEST SHOTS

SAY WHAT?

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy thinks if Georgia's Aaron Murray comes out he'll be the best QB in the draft. Dungy's son Eric went to high school with Murray. "I know what type of worker he is," Dungy said. "He picked Eric up early in the mornings to throw. He's been that way all his life." ... NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth feels people unfairly blamed the Lions' Ndamukong Suh for hitting the Texans' Matt Schaub below the belt. "He threw his legs at the quarterback," Collinsworth said. "[Did] he intentionally kick him in the groin? Who is he, Bruce Lee?" ... Fox's Troy Aikman was impressed that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stayed with QB Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith against the Saints. "I've always applauded the coach who does what's in the best interest of his team," Aikman said. "Most coaches are heavily influenced by what the criticism is going to be afterward." ... Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel told me he's often compared to Doug Flutie, but that he once emulated another gunslinger: "If I was throwing the ball in the backyard with my Packers number 4 jersey on, that's who I was trying to be."

PHOTOMICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (PATRICK) PHOTOJONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (TE'O) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (MANZIEL) PHOTODAVID LIVINGSTON/GETTY IMAGES (AIKMAN) PHOTOMARC BRYAN-BROWN/WIREIMAGE (COLLINSWORTH) PHOTOJOE CAMPOREALE/US PRESSWIRE (DUNGY)

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