NEW YORK — In the instant he became another defender foiled by Johnny Football, Manti Te'o's chin dropped and a smile crossed his face. The man who wouldn't bring an eighth Heisman Trophy to Notre Dame clapped, stood up and patted Johnny Manziel on the shoulder as the precocious Texas A&M quarterback walked onto the stage and into history.
Moments later, Te'o arrived in the arms of his beaming father, Brian, and was consumed in a bear hug. And the father whispered one more piece of advice into his son's ears, one that will echo into January: Let's go get that crystal ball, he said.
"I'm relieved that it's over, I'm excited I get the chance to prepare for 'Bama," Manti Te'o said. "I'm telling you guys — Heisman Trophy or national championship, I'll take a national championship 100 times out of 100."
That's what's left now, Te'o receiving a stiff arm but not a stiff-arm trophy and now using a night on which he fell short as motivation to overcome. The kinetic, combustible Manziel became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman, earning 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points to the 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points Te'o accrued.
It was the most points ever for a pure defensive player and it tied the best finish ever for a player solely toiling on that side of the ball. It ended a week in which Te'o amassed six national awards, an unprecedented haul.
He just wished he heard his name called one more time.
"I just felt that burn," Te'o said. "I can't really describe it. It's that burn to say, hey, you just have to get better.
"It's motivation. I always wanted to be the best. I just use that as motivation to just be the best I can be. Obviously I have a lot of work to do. I'm just excited to get back and get things cracking."
Manziel, of course, hit the scene like a supernova as a redshirt freshman for Texas A&M, breaking the single-season SEC record with 4,600 total yards and seemingly just as many You cannot be serious plays. The mix proved irresistible to Heisman voters.
"It's so humbling to me to be the first freshman to win and make history," Manziel said. "It doesn't matter what year you are. If you work hard enough, if you have a great group of guys and great people around you, great things can happen."
Less than three hours before the announcement, Te'o insisted he wasn't nervous. He was excited, happy that people in Hawaii were watching in droves. For the first time in a week-long trip featuring a new city practically every night, he found time for a nap. Indeed, on the sixth day, Te'o rested.10 comments on this story
He won't for a moment until Jan. 7. He wasn't expected to win the Heisman but was stung a bit by the reality. Te'o laughed and smiled and joked about the proper name for the leis slung around the necks of Manziel's parents, but then he locked in on Alabama, locked in on changing his destiny on a different winter day.
"I did the best I could do, and I'm happy with that," Te'o said. "I wish I could have come in first, obviously, but it gives me fire to come back and get better. Obviously what I did wasn't good enough. I felt I could do better. So that's exactly what's going to happen."
With that, he stood and smacked his hands together one more time.
"All right!" Te'o shouted. "Let's eat!"