The biggest story of last night's NFL draft wasn't who got picked in the first round, but who didn't. Specifically, Manti Te'o. Contrary to ESPN's expectations, he had to wait until the sixth pick of the second round to find his new professional football home with the San Diego Chargers.
ESPN, which has shown the NFL draft since the channel's very early days and basically created the spectacle that now comes part and parcel with draft day (seriously? Team caps in glass cases?), loves to create unassailable sports celebrities. Now that Tim Tebow is a flop, it needs a new football hero. And it's going with Manti Te'o. That means either ignoring or barely alluding to his character or athletic flaws, such as:
- His poor performance in his final college game
- His poor performance in the combine
- Oh yeah, that whole fake girlfriend thing that even my non-football-watching grandmother knows about (guess who got the first post-revelation interview with Te'o, by the way? Yes, that's right: ESPN)
Instead of focusing on any of that, ESPN's analysts (including Jon Gruden, who invited Te'o to his "QB Camp" series despite the fact that Te'o is not a quarterback) and commentators spent most of last night eagerly anticipating Te'o's draft, repeatedly promising that we were heading "into Te'o territory" as the night wore on. Aside from those bumper spots featuring Te'o lip-synching "How You Like Me Now?" that ESPN played several times, we were not in Te'o territory. Several linemen were drafted before him, and even the Minnesota Vikings, who were seen as one of the most likely teams to pick Te'o and had three first-round picks, didn't take him.
He finally went to San Diego tonight, so be sure to listen for his name during any and all mentions of the Chargers in the foreseeable future until he, like the Tebow before him, is voted the most overrated player by his fellow players and ESPN moves on to its next pretty young thing.