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Allen: Te’o can add to already abundant legend Monday (Jan. 6)

Chris Allen | Sunday, January 6, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The day Notre Dame fans have been anticipating for 45 days – or 24 years, depending on how you count it up – is finally about to unfold.

No more hype. Just football. By now, Notre Dame fans know intimately those players and coaches who will run out of the tunnel onto the pristine turf of Sun Life Stadium on Monday night.

But they know one player intimately enough to understand that Manti Te’o carries a special weight on his shoulders. The senior linebacker and captain, who has earned a relationship on a first-name basis with Notre Dame nation is playing to cap a personal journey unlike any other.

And if he wins, he will be mentioned with few equals in the annals of Notre Dame history.

“Manti Te’o, what he’s done for us off the field is probably as important as what he’s done on the field,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said in a press conference Sunday. “He’s gotten incredible accolades and awards for what he’s done on the field, but his leadership was in a large degree why we’re here, as well.”

2012 has been a year of tests for Te’o, and they arrived in waves that came almost weekly. But this is his biggest test. He and his teammates will be physically tested and punished by a bruising and relentless Alabama offensive front, and in order to walk off the field victorious Te’o has to win his own battles and lift those around him.

He’s been doing it all season, so what better way for the player who has already built a legendary resume to end his college career?

“Yeah, I think when you go against a team like Alabama, we understand

that they’re the king of the hill.  They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they obviously have been so dominant the past couple years and this season, as well,” Te’o said. “So we understand who we’re going up against.  Like I said, what better way to finish this year but to play in the biggest game in college football and to be going against the best team in college football, and that’s Alabama.”

As Te’o compiled his impressive resume and heaped on accomplishment after accomplishment, many spoke in hushed tones of the implications of the linebacker’s play in historical context: What if he led Notre Dame to an undefeated season? To the national championship? Would that make him one of the all-time greats?

There’s no need for hushed tones anymore – any unanswered questions will be answered between the white lines against Alabama on Monday night. It’s cut and dry – Notre Dame’s senior leader stands to become the latest in a handful of University legends that need no introduction or pretense. The Four Horsemen, Rockne, The Gipper, Hornung and Montana – Manti would belong on that list.

Win or lose, the Notre Dame faithful will be witnessing the final game of a student-athlete who will decades from now be cited as one of, if not the main reason for the on-the-field turnaround in the Notre Dame football program. His final chapter seems ripped straight from a storybook, as he attempts to finally become a champion by defeating the ultimate power in the sport. Regardless of Monday night’s outcome, Te’o’s impact will live on for Irish faithful once the lights dim at Sun Life Stadium.

“At Notre Dame I hope my legacy is just a guy who gave Notre Dame his all, a guy who really committed himself to the school, and I really feel fortunate to play under the Golden Dome and receive an education there,” Te’o said. “Just one who really gave everything he had.”

That legacy already cemented, he will head out of the tunnel tomorrow night to try and bring home a final, unthinkable victory.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.