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Associated Press
This photo shot Tuesday amd released by ABC shows Manti Te'o speaking with host Katie Couric during an interview for "Katie," in New York.

Te’o’s saga running out of gas

– Before this is over, some publisher will be rich enough to buy Tahiti.

Publicists will descend on Hollywood like fire ants. Lawyers will follow. The Lifetime Network’s programming will look like this:

6 p.m.: “The Manti Te’o Story”

8 p.m.: “The Lennay Kekau Story”

10 p.m.: “The Ronaiah Tuiasosopo Story”

Midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m.: “The Story of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s Cousins,” “The Story of The Friend To Whom Ronaiah Tuiasosopo Confessed,” “The Story of the Drug Dealers Who Are Supposedly After The Girl Who Posed As Lennay Kekau,” “Breaking Manti Te’o’s Heart And Forcing Notre Dame, Ground Zero For Myth Enhancement, To Prop Up Yet Another One.”

Before this is over – before Katie Couric gets Manti Te’o on camera, and he tries to get the story straight again – a lot of vultures are going to circle, looking to pluck the last morsel off this fat and glistening carcass.

They’d better do it pronto, if so. Because it says here Couric is a Katie Come Too Lately.

It says here the whole saga of Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend is down to the unpopped kernels now, because I honestly don’t know where else it can go at this point. Te’o has told his story. Holes in it you could sail a river barge through have been duly noted. Tuiasosopo and his friend and his cousins and Te’o’s childhood friend from Hawaii have all said that the hoax was indeed a hoax and Te’o its pigeon, at least for some indeterminate period of time.

I don’t think we’ll ever really find out how much that period of time amounted to, or if it really matters at this point. Te’o’s already put a couple of torpedoes in his NFL draft status with this, and that’s really the only consequence here. Even if it comes out that he figured out he was being punk’d long before the December phone call from “Lennay,” how much more damage to his future earnings can he do?

This is what I believe now: That at some point last fall, far later than any reasonably credulous person would have, Te’o realized he’d been had. Maybe it was after “Lennay” had “died” and after he’d already told the story to the world. And maybe, because he’s a 22-year-old college kid, he panicked. Maybe he figured the thing had gone too far now, and, yeah, it was goosing his Heisman Trophy candidacy (even though that was never the plan), and, oh, my God, if I say it was all a fairy tale now, people will think I’m either a complete idiot or – worse – a stone whacko who invented a fake girlfriend and then faked her fake death to gain a little extra pub …

Fraud or bonehead: Those were the choices. And so Te’o lied to his parents, lied to Notre Dame officials, lied to America about something that was a lie to begin with.

He’s gone public with Jeremy Schaap, and Thursday, he’ll go public with Katie Couric. And then what?

He’s not going to get charged with anything, unless it comes out that he was selling Lennaystrong bracelets and pocketing the money, which he wasn’t. The admitted perpetrators of the hoax won’t get charged, either, unless it comes out that they separated Te’o from his wallet, which apparently they didn’t.

So all that’s left now are the ghostwritten tell-alls and the Lifetime movies and the sad, money-grubbing endgame.

Well. Until Lennay shows up, publicist in tow and Hollywood script in hand.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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