The Heisman Trust states that “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.” This is a perfect description of Manti Te’o. Te’o is a part of a two horse race between himself and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for college football’s top individual prize. Both players have impressive stats but Te’o excels in every way including intangibles and representing the spirit of the Heisman in ways Manziel cannot come close to equalling.
Those arguing in favor of Manziel to be the Heisman winner point to the fact he has a Heisman moment, guiding the Aggies to a road victory over then number one ranked Alabama, while Te’o doesn’t possess such a moment, this notion is absurd. Te’o has led the Irish on two legendary goal line stands, one against Stanford in the pouring rain and another against USC to solidify the Irish’s trip to the national championship. These goal line stands symbolized the toughness of the Notre Dame defense, a defense led by Te’o, which takes its attitude from its senior leader. The Notre Dame defense and entire team for that matter are a reflection of Te’o, the team plays for each other and never gives up despite the odds, a team that takes the fight to the opponent instead of sitting back and playing not to lose. These intangibles all symbolize the spirit of Notre Dame, which Te’o has resurrected. Te’o also has a Heisman moment against Oklahoma, a team favored by double digits against the Irish, his fourth quarter interception of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones led to a game-clinching filed goal and established on primetime television as the world watched that Notre Dame is back.
Furthermore Te’o has 103 tackles, seven interceptions, good for second in the nation, two fumble recoveries, and eleven pass defenses. Te’o has had some games where he hasn’t had ground-breaking stat totals, but has never had an off game to the degree of costing his team a victory, as even when he is slowed down he makes sure the rest of the defense is in the right position to make plays. Te’o leads the number one defense in the nation, a unit that triumphs with its back to the goal line and makes opposing offenses earn every inch, a defense that has yet to have an awful game. Manziel on the other hand has produced great stats, throwing for 3419 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes, to go along with 1181 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing, but has had off games. Manziel is in an offense made for him to rack up numbers win or lose; however, he has had poor outings which have led to his team’s two losses. Manziel threw for only 173 yards and no touchdowns, while rushing for only 60 in a loss to Florida, and played horrendously in a loss to LSU, throwing three interceptions while completing barely over 50 percent of his passes, and rushing for a mere 27 yards on 17 carries, not exactly Heisman-like performances. Also Te’o is a consensus first team all-American, while Manziel is not, and it seems ridiculous to have a Heisman trophy winner who isn’t an all-American.
Additionally Te’o’s story is story book, returning Notre Dame to glory and capturing the heart of a nation after playing in the same week he lost both his girlfriend and grandmother, and doing it all with a team expected to lose five games this season. On the other hand Manziel is just another spread quarterback racking up huge numbers. It is impressive he has done so as a freshman in the SEC, but he wasn’t even on the Heisman radar before the Alabama victory and quite frankly doesn’t possess Te’o’s body of work throughout the season. Manziel doesn’t have the intangibles of Teo as he is a freshman and is not the undisputed leader of his team, not to mention his arrest for disorderly conduct, not exactly what the Heisman statement symbolizes a player to be.
The Heisman symbolizes more than just stats; it symbolizes a player and a type of person which Te’o fits perfectly. Manti Te’o is the best player of the best team in the nation and as his head coach Brian Kelly has said if Te’o doesn’t win the Heisman it might as well become an offense only award. It’s simple, Te’o has been the man all year, Manziel is just the flavor of the month.