Just months before the NFL Draft, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is at the center of a juicy scandal -- a hoax that involves a dead girlfriend and fake romance.
The water cooler story is introducing millions of Americans something called "catfishing," where someone is drawn into a fake relationship.
Te'o's case comes direct from the file of "you can't make this stuff up." In fact, it sounds more like a Hollywood pitch than real life: A college football star winds up a contender for the Heisman trophy, despite his girlfriend dying of leukemia at the start of season.
It's a storyline sportswriters bought hook line and sinker, only to find out the entire plot was little more than a dream sequence.
After the death of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day, Manti Te'o went on to help Notre Dame to its best season in more than a decade.
The only problem: His girlfriend of three years wasn't real.
It turns out in early December Te'o learned the entire relationship was a hoax -- that the love of his life -- Lennay Kekua -- was nothing more than a "catfish."
The term comes from a documentary-turned-MTV show that help couples involved in online relationships meet in person to see if they really are who they say they are.
Edward Krakhmalnikov says he met a girl in an online forum for people to get over a relationship. They were never romantically linked, but have stayed in touch for three years.
"I know a person that I'm pretty sure is real that I've never met," he said.
Stephanie Kluver, a professional matchmaker, says that's why all their clients meet for the first time in person.
"Real relationships need to be in person," she said. "You need to meet in person instead of hiding behind a computer or text messages or Twitter or Facebook.
If Te'o was a victim, he certainly took advantage of it in a big way. Pointing two fingers to heaven after big plays -- one for his late grandmother, one for the girlfriend he never met.
But many now wonder if Te'o really took the bait or if the real victims were the sports writers and Notre Dame fans who followed his made-for-Hollywood back story.
Te'o says he was the victim of a "sick joke...that was painful and humiliating."
Both the university and Manti Te'o claim he learned of the scam on December 6, yet Te'o continued to mentioned her in interviews after learning it was a hoax.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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