Notre Dame people bought it. They bought the whole damn thing. Manti Te'o told them about his girlfriend, and they bought it. He told them she was injured in a car crash. Then dying of leukemia. Then she died, and not just during the football season but six hours after his grandmother died.
Notre Dame bought it.
And Notre Dame is buying it still.
The story of Te'o that we heard all fell apart Wednesday thanks to some absurdly thorough reporting by Deadspin. The girlfriend didn't die six hours after his grandmother. She didn't have leukemia. She wasn't in a car crash.
She wasn't real.
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Where we go from here, nobody knows. What happens next is mysterious, disconcerting territory. Te'o has yet to speak, other than to put out a statement that said he was the victim of the hoax.
"I was the victim ..." Te'o said in the statement. "It further pains me that the grief I felt ... [was] in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life."
Notre Dame believes it. Notre Dame believes every last piece of it. We know that because the school trotted out athletics director Jack Swarbrick to meet the media Wednesday night and Swarbrick uttered gem after gem, like this one:
"Nothing I've learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota," he said.
The facts of this case are literally unbelievable, though I will leave myself some wiggle room to say the following, and to say it sincerely:
Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next. I cannot comprehend Manti Te'o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim. That doesn't mean such a tale cannot be told. It just means I can't conjure it in my head. You could give me three months to come up with a legitimate ending for this story that explains how Manti Te'o didn't know that his "girlfriend" of three years was a hoax.
And after three months, this is what I would write:
I can't do it. Maybe Te'o can. Maybe Te'o will meet the media on Thursday and tell a story so convincing, so believable, that I'm rushing to my laptop to try to scrub this story, the one you're reading now, from the Internet.
But I doubt it'll happen that way because this story, his story, strains the limits of belief. It strains my belief, and yours. I've been reading you -- on message boards and Twitter -- and you don't believe Te'o, either.
Notre Dame believes him.
"It does fully line up," Swarbrick said of Te'o's story about the hoax.
People who don't believe Te'o? Swarbrick has something to say to them.
"Then you don't know Manti, is my answer," he said.
As for Swarbrick, he had better be right. The USS Manti Te'o has just entered unseen waters, and Jack Swarbrick attached himself to the hull. If this ship goes down, it takes Swarbrick down too. We'll never forget the 30 minutes he spent trying to convince us that the world really -- really -- is flat.
Swarbrick was pushed just once during the news conference, when he was gently challenged on his assertion that Te'o and his girlfriend had "exclusively an online relationship."
That doesn't jibe with this story in the South Bend Tribune, which in addition to being the paper in Swarbrick's hometown, also had this story circulating Wednesday on Twitter thanks to a passage that describes, in detail, the time Te'o first laid eyes on his girlfriend.
"Lennay Kekua," the story says of the fictitious girlfriend, "was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago."
The two exchanged glances, handshakes ...
Swarbrick was asked about that, and he had no answer. Because there is no answer, other than to make like an ostrich, stick your head in the sand and pretend the question doesn't exist. Swarbrick said there were "several meetings" set up between Te'o and Kekua, including in the state of Hawaii, but Kekua never showed up. Yet Te'o continued the relationship, presumably. And Swarbrick bought the story, definitely.
The news conference hit its nadir when Swarbrick started a sentence before breaking down:
"The thing I'm most sad about is ..." Swarbrick paused, sipped from a cup of tea, composed himself and forged ahead. "The single most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust again in his life."
Single most trusting human being? Manti Te'o?
I would suggest someone else takes that trophy.