Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY Sports
Manti Te'o told Katie Couric the most egregious falsehood the Notre Dame All-American linebacker told regarding a now-infamous hoax involving a fake girlfriend was something he said to his father.
"The biggest lie I'm sorry for is the lie that I told my dad,'' Te'o said Thursday during his first televised interview since the Lennay Kekua scandal broke. "He asked me, 'Did you see her?' I said, 'No. ... I mean, yes.' As a child, your biggest thing is to get approval of your parents.''
But, he added, he was "invested in Lennay.''
Later, Couric asked the former Irish star if a popular rumor that he might be gay was true.
"No, far from it,'' he quickly replied before laughing. "Far from it. Faaaarrrr from it.''
Te'o insisted he never lied to anyone about his non-existent girlfriend, even after he found out the entire ordeal was a ruse.
"I wasn't as forthcoming, but I didn't lie,'' he said. "I never was asked, 'Did you see her in person?' ''
The Heisman Trophy finalist discussed Kekua with various media Dec. 8 and Dec. 10. The Heisman ceremony was Dec. 8 in New York. Te'o finished second.
Couric pressed Te'o on why, after he said he received a call Dec. 6 from the person he thought was Kekua saying she was still alive, he perpetuated the story.
Said Couric: "You stuck to the script. You knew something was amiss.
"Correct," Te'o said.
"Part of me was saying if you say she's alive, what will everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who followed you, who you inspired?
"As a 21-year-old I wasn't ready for that. I didn't even tell my parents. I'm the only one who knew, me ... I didn't know who to trust. I was scared."
Te'o said he later asked the person he believed to be Kekua to send him a photo to his phone. She did. A copy of the image appeared on the show.
"On Dec. 21, 2012, I get that picture ... When this happened, I said, 'OK, she's alive.' Now what do I do? That's when I came home and told mom and dad.
Teo's parents, Brian and Ottilia Te'o, also appeared on Couric's show.
"It was a difficult conversation," Ottilia Te'o said of the day when her son told them of what had happened. "It took him a while to say it. He basically said, Lennay's alive. It was complete, utter shock. The reason I say that is because the belief in this person, the deception, wasn't only with Manti ... We followed the same pattern as Manti."
Asked how it felt for her son to be called a liar, Ottilia teared up.
"It hurts," she said. "That's my child. He always puts others before himself. He did what a responsible respectable man should do ... I am proud of his character. It just hurts to see his picture and his name being displayed as someone dishonest."
Said Brian Te'o as he, too, became emotional: If they're saying Manti lied about something, they might as well say we lied about it today ... The story was reality for us. ... I'm proud of this guy, I really am (tears up)."
By this time, Brian, Ottilia and Manti were all crying.
"He's a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man," Brian said. "And I love him. I really do."
Speaking of lessons he has learned from all this, Manti Te'o said, "From August to November, you have a lot of people cheering for you. 'Dude, you are so great.' Now, you see who is in your corner, who actually loves you."
Then, looking at his parents, he said, "Kids, listen to mom and dad.''
Deadspin.com first reported the hoax Jan. 16, when it released a long and detailed account of how Te'o had fallen victim to a "catfishing" scheme created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te'o's and a pastor at a California church.
While Deadspin quoted a friend of Tuiasosopo's as saying he was "80% sure" that Te'o was "in on it," and that "the two perpetrated Kekua's death with publicity in mind," Te'o and his family have adamantly denied any involvement in or knowledge of the hoax.
In an off-camera interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap on Jan. 18, Te'o said he had no inkling his relationship with Kekua was a sham until Dec. 6, when Kekua called him to say that she was not dead. These calls persisted over the following weeks, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference Jan. 17.
Even then, Te'o said, he was not convinced Kekua didn't exist until Jan. 16, when Tuiasosopo called him to confess and apologize.
On Couric's show Thursday, Te'o said Tuiasosopo tried to explain himself.
"He didn't say why, he just explained he wanted to help people." Te'o said of the conversation. "It was his way of helping people."
Couric asked Te'o what he said in return.
"Obviously it didn't really help me out," Te'o said. "I really didn't say anything.. I was still speechless. What I believed to be my reality wasn't reality at all."
Notre Dame first learned of the hoax Dec. 26, when Te'o called coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and informed them of the calls he had been receiving from Kekua over the previous 20 days.
Kelly and Diaco then told Swarbrick, who met with Te'o on Dec. 27 and Te'o's parents a day later.
In earlier excerpts released by Katie, Te'o acknowledged he briefly lied about the nature of his relationship with Kekua in the days following the initial phone call Dec. 6. Te'o mentioned Kekua two days later, when he was in Manhattan for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
"Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later," Te'o told Couric. "And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?"
The pain he felt when he learned Kekua had died Sept. 12 was all real, Te'o said to Couric. "What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow. That was all real," Te'o said.
He was asked his thoughts about his future as a professional player. Since the interview was taped earlier this week, Te'o has resumed workouts in preparation for the NFL draft in April.
"That I don't know," he said. "To be honest with you, as long as (his parents) are OK, whatever happens happens. As far as my draft status, I hope and pray good happens."
Contributing: Paul Myerberg
USA TODAY Sports