The All-Te'o Mailbag
Bill Simmons [ARCHIVE]
January 22, 2013
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We're overflowing with killer story lines on NFL Championship Weekend. Colin Kaepernick might be the real-life Willie Beamon. Belichick and Brady might be headed for their sixth Bowl. The Falcons might give Atlanta its first asterisk-free championship ever. Joe Flacco may have usurped Eli Manning's identity as "The Big-Game QB Who Scares The Crap Out Of You Whether You're Going For Or Against Him." Ray Lewis might pull off a 60-tackle postseason just three months after ripping his triceps while drawing no PED suspicion whatsoever. I could keep going and going … and that's why we can't waste a column rehashing this admittedly transfixing Manti Te'o story. We're banging out a Te'o-free NFL playoff mailbag. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.

Q: Could we get a special All-Manti Te'o Mailbag? Isn't this the most bizarre sports story ever? —Derek P., Chattanooga, TN

SG: (Thinking.)

OK, fine, maybe just a few e-mails.

Q: I have no idea what to believe about Manti Te'o, but I am also not ruling anything out. I believe that this is just the 3rd sports related story to enter the Tyson Zone along with Kerrigan/Harding & Thanksgiving with the Woods family. I know you are the best person to confirm this list. —Jordan, Springfield, OH

SG: You're right — I am the best person to confirm this list. I don't know what that says about me, but you came to the right place. When a person enters the Tyson Zone, that means they've exhibited enough insane behavior that their ceiling of insanity has been permanently lifted. In other words, you'd believe absolutely any story about that person no matter what it was. So if I told you, "Lately, Mike Tyson has been killing bats and drinking their blood because he thinks it allows him to sleep better," you wouldn't doubt that story because you had already decided to believe any Mike Tyson story no matter what it was.

For a news story to enter the Tyson Zone, that means the story became so insane that you'd believe any new wrinkle relating to that story. Once the list of Tiger-related floozies/mistresses/cocktail waitress/porn stars started trickling out after Tiger's Thanksgiving story, that Thanksgiving story hit the Tyson Zone. The Kerrigan/Harding story was unfathomable from Day 1 — if you're under 20 years old, I can't even begin to describe how implausible that scandal was. (Imagine Ray Lewis hiring two loser buddies to cripple Tom Brady before Sunday's game, then nearly pulling it off, and you'd barely be in the ballpark.) I'd also throw in the aftermath of Nicole Brown Simpson's murder, from the moment the LAPD spokesman said "We are actively searching for Mr. Simpson" all the way through the trial's verdict. And finally, I'd include the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, as well as Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapping wives and families in the mid-1970s. (If that happened in 2013, the Internet would break. Actually, Manti Te'o just broke the Internet, so it's a moot point.) Those are the five Tyson Zone stories that stand out for me pre-Manti. Quite a list.

Q: Has the Te'o story already outdone the Tiger Woods story? Or would we also have to find out Te'o was running an underground fake-girlfriend ring for the schoolboys in South Bend? —Sean, Portland

SG: Please don't forget how breathtakingly incredible that Tiger story was coming out of the gate. Put it this way: I still remember where I was when I first heard about the car accident, then saying to my wife, "Hmmmmm … this one doesn't sound right. My shit detector is going off," followed by her saying, "Mine, too," and it just spiraled out of control from there. Within 24 hours, I was password-protecting my BlackBerry and throwing out all my Ambien. Just kidding. But Tiger was the single most famous athlete on the planet at the time, someone headed toward becoming his generation's Ruth/Ali/MJ … and with one crazy incident, everything totally, completely and irrevocably fell apart. He's never been the same. You also can't forget how much time we spent wondering what happened that night. (I spent not one but TWO columns on the same day trying to figure it out.) That story just kept going and going and going … shit, it's still going! Earlier this week, the National Enquirer reported that Tiger and Elin might be reconciling. So for Manti's Catfish Hoax to surpass Tiger's Thanksgiving, we definitely need a few more twists and turns. Am I ruling out a few more twists and turns? NO!!!!!!! That's why this story entered the Tyson Zone so quickly.

Q: What if I told you a Heisman finalist fooled us into thinking he could tackle? "Manti Te'o: The Lyin' Hawaiian." A new film from ESPN and 30 for 30. —Zach, Los Angeles

SG: You left out, "Directed by the guys from Catfish." (Wait a second, this idea might work.) Can you remember anyone inadvertently benefiting from a sports scandal more than the guys from Catfish? They parlayed a contrived indie movie (by the way, I enjoyed it) into an even more contrived MTV series (by the way, I enjoy it), and within 24 hours, suddenly we're using "catfishing" as a verb and these dudes are being trotted out for TV shows the same way we trotted out legal experts during the O.J. trial.

Q: Manti Te'O got me thinking: what feel-good sports story would be most shocking if you found out it was a sham? Mine would be Brian Piccolo's story. What if the Bears faked his death because he wasn't good enough to make the team and they wanted an emotional lift in order to sell tickets? [Gale] Sayers becomes marketable as not only a great player but a great human. Piccolo disappears and doesn't have to deal with the stigma of being cut. Everybody wins. —Shawn M., Midland, TX

SG: Mine would be Lance Armstrong being forced to leave Livestrong after we learned that he had been cheating with PEDs during his entire cycling career. Crap, that's already in the works. I need more time to answer this. Regardless, congratulations, Manti Te'o — you actually inspired a reader to wonder what life would be like if this speech was a sham.

Q: Is this the strangest sports story of all time? Will we ever have a sports story weirder than a star linebacker for the highest profile school in the nation possibly making up an online girlfriend, eventually killing her off, using that as "motivation", then claiming he was a victim of a hoax and either making the whole thing up or really being the victim of a hoax? —Trevin, Fort Worth, TX

SG: The short answer: No. If only because the whole saga was so elaborately convoluted from start to finish that this was either (a) a phenomenal hoax pulled off on someone who was phenomenally naive; (b) a snowball-type story in which Te'o got catfished, found out in the August-September range, then decided to keep embellishing the story...
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