As if last week's 42-14 loss to Alabama wasn't numbing enough, Manti Te'o's father, Brian, fired up the passions of football fans of Hawaii last week with a scathing collection of remarks on Facebook.
A couple of days after the BCS National Championship debacle in Miami, a post on a "Manti Te'o 'Official' Fan Club" page unloaded heavily on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for its choice of a headline "BOWLED OVER'' on a huge front-page photo which showed the star Notre Dame linebacker on his back after being run down by Bama back Eddie Lacy.
By mid-week, the thread attracted more than 4,000 "likes'' and close to 1,100 comments, mostly bashing the publication for its lack of loyalty to Te'o and with Brian Te'o calling for Hawaiians to cancel their subscriptions. He also noted that his family had "blacklisted'' the paper would no longer grant interviews to the paper. By Friday, the thread had been deleted.
Deadspin even helped it the story go more viral by picking it up over the weekend. http://deadspin.com/manti-te.o/
I learned during my six days in Florida that residents, especially natives of the state of Hawaii, are probably the most passionate about their own as any state in our country. I spent several evenings chatting up Dave Reardon, a sports columnist from the Star-Advertiser, who was sent for the week just to basically cover Te'o, Robby Toma and Kona Schwenke -- the three Irish who hail from Hawaii. KHON2, a Honolulu TV station, even sent reporter Robert DeMello and photographer Reid Shimizu to Florida for the week.
I asked Reardon if Hawaiian's were Notre Dame fans or fans of three athletes who play for the Irish. He said some of both, but loyalties leaned more in favor of the players than the school. Other than the University of Hawaii, those on the islands often cheered for USC, the closest national football power. Fans would watch just to see players like Mosi Tatupu play. Tatupu was a standout player at Punahou, who played from 1975-'78 with USC and later 15 seasons in the NFL, mostly as a celebrated special teams standout.
LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL
Knowing his audience well, DeMello said "Hawaiians are unique," noting that Derek Jeter could hit four home runs for the Yankees, but if Hawaiian Shane Victorino, the former Phillie centerfielder now with the Dodgers, went 2-for-4 with a double, that would lead the local sportscasts.
During last week's final Media Day session, two days before the BCS game, I posed the same question to Te'o, Toma and Schwenke -- Notre Dame fans or Hawaiian player fans of ND?
From Toma: "The three of us, (fans) follow us through Facebook, we see our Facebook getting blown up. The support from our friends and family back home has been amazing." ... From Schwenke: "I hadn’t heard Notre Dame a lot when I growing up. (Hawaiians) are happy to see we’re representing. It's kind of like that for everything. Someone from Hawaii does something big, everyone always notices it." ... From Te'o: "I’m not sure. Really not sure. I think’s a combination of both. I know there's a lot of ND fans in Hawaii. There’s Notre Dame fans everywhere. They're especially proud (in Hawaii)."
I reached out to Reardon via email on Saturday. He was covering the Sony Open, the first stop on the 2013 PGA golf tour at the famed Waialae Country Club. Reardon said he could not reveal the content of the conversations, which he said were positive in nature, but he had exchanged emails and had a phone conversation with Brian Te'o. Beyond that, Reardon said he was happy that he was covering golf this weekend. Can't say I'd blame him, either.