I know I'm going to get crap from my religious friends for using the phrase "second coming" in the next statement, but the pun is unavoidable.
Manti Te'o is the second coming of Tim Tebow.
Tomorrow night, Te'o will try to make his already-unbelievable mark on college football and the University of Notre Dame more than legend when he sits among three finalists for the Heisman Trophy. No linebacker has ever won the award, and he's considered a legitimate candidate for arguably the most prestigious award in any sport at any level.
If I had a vote for the award, I would give it to Te'o. He's transformed the campus at Notre Dame into a lei-wearing fraternity of students. His incredible story of success in spite of overwhelming personal loss this year is worthy of both tears and respect, and he's been the most noticeable player on the best team in the country.
As the Tribune's David Haugh wrote earlier today, Te'o embodies everything the Heisman stands for (sorry about the paywall).
In fact, when trying to appropriately capture the movement that Te'o has been this year, the first person to come to mind is an unpopular name for many NFL fans.
Tebow was, in my mind, the best college football player of the last 20 years. He dominated at Florida on and off the field, and his leadership led to a (wait for it...) cult following across the football world. His public faith wasn't far away from his willingness to be held accountable for Florida's effort, good or bad.
On Thursday night, Te'o became the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award since 1980, ending a string of nine straight quarterbacks. He also took home the Bednarik Award for top defensive player and Walter Camp Foundation player of the year award, giving Te'o six major awards since the end of Notre Dame's regular season.
He's as decorated as any defensive player in history.
He's as loved as any player in the country.
Indeed, the last player to be as dominant, and charismatic, as Te'o was Tebow.
And like Tebow, Te'o should leave New York with the Heisman on Saturday night.