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STEVE DESHAZO: Momentary lapses are one thing; ongoing cons quite another

JUST DESSERTS is more than the name of the best restaurant ever. It’s also a recent trend in which athletes and teams are reaping the results of their folly.

  • Lance Armstrong deserves to have his seven Tour de France titles stripped, and he deserves scorn for using performance-enhancing drugs, then lying about it and trying to intimidate anyone who dared blow a whistle.
  • Just when you thought no one could knock Armstrong off the front page, though, along comes Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his imaginary dead Internet girlfriend. (Much more on that in a minute.)
  • The NFL playoffs would look a lot different if a couple of favored teams hadn’t blown great opportunities last weekend.

    Denver would be hosting Sunday’s AFC championship game if safety Rahim Moore hadn’t foolishly let Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones get behind him for a game-tying 70-yard touchdown catch in the final minute of regulation.

    The Broncos still might have won if Peyton Manning hadn’t thrown the same off-balance, against-the-body-interception that cost Brett Favre his final shot at a Super Bowl in 2007. This came after he took a knee with 31 seconds and two timeouts left in regulation.

    A day later, Seattle’s stirring second-half comeback against Atlanta would have resulted in a win—if the Seahawks hadn’t botched two first-half red zone trips.

    First, Seattle failed to gain a yard on third or fourth down without giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch. Then the Seahawks mismanaged the clock and failed to get off a field goal try as the first half ended.

  • On Thursday, N.C. State lost a chance to stay atop the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball standings largely because its best player forgot fundamentals.

    Trailing by a point in the final seconds, Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard got off an awkward fallaway shot that had no chance. But C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack’s preseason All-America forward, tried to jump over two teammates to block it. He vacated the spot where the Terps’ Alex Len caught the air ball and laid it in for the game-winning basket.

    Most of those were poor snap judgments made in the heat of competition and can be rationalized, if not explained.

    There’s no logic, though, to Te’o’s apparent invention of a long-distance relationship and his stories of his alleged girlfriend’s involvement in a violent car crash and her death from leukemia on the same day Te’o’s beloved grandmother died.

    On Wednesday, Deadspin .com published a well-researched investigation that concluded that Lennay Kekua was never a Stanford University student (as Te’o claimed). Nor are there any records of her accident or death.

    Suddenly, Te’o has gone from a Heisman Trophy runner-up to a national punch line.

    (Full disclosure: Te’o got my Heisman vote—not for his backstory, but for leading one of the nation’s stingiest defenses in a year when offensive players put up video-game numbers.)

    Notre Dame claims Te’o was the victim of an elaborate Internet hoax. But it’s inconceivable that he wasn’t somehow complicit.

    The South Bend Tribune reported Te’o met Kekua after a game at Stanford in 2009, and several major media outlets (including ESPN and Sports Illustrated) repeated heartwarming tales of their meeting and long phone conversations.

    Te’o basked in the attention and apparently never tried to set the record straight—even after last Dec. 26, when athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the school learned of the hoax. He had plenty of chances to come clean before the Irish’s BCS championship game loss to Alabama, but didn’t.

    Te’o and the Irish got trampled 42–14 in that game, and now his personal reputation has taken a similar pounding. He’s either a liar or a sap, and neither is a desirable label.

    Te’o had been considered a likely first-round pick. Draft consultant Gil Brandt told The Associated Press Thursday that his poor performance in the BCS final, combined with this bizarre development, could cost him dearly. There’s certainly no doubt what the first question will be when Te’o interviews with teams at next month’s NFL combine.

    South Bend has always been college football’s home of mythology. Notre Dame gave us the famous (if unproven) “Win one for the Gipper” speech and “Rudy.” Joe Theismann changed the pronunciation of his last name from THEEZ-man to rhyme with Heisman, and the Irish also fired George O’Leary less than a week after hiring him in 2001 because he embellished his playing career on his résumé.

    Unlike many other famous athletes, Te’o didn’t hurt anyone except himself and his school. But in a time when almost every fact can be verified, it looks like he’s getting what he deserves.

    Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

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